Keynotes and Seminars

Dealing with the Grieving:
How to Tell the Family the Patient Is Dead or Dying…

And recover your own emotional equilibrium promptly

CME Speaker Wendy KellerWhat is the problem (C2)?

The responsibility to tell the family that a patient is dead or dying is one of the most onerous tasks facing physicians and other healthcare personnel. However, the speed at which the family heals, the decisions they make as a result of this communication, and how they determine the physician’s or the facility’s level of service and support are all dependent on this interaction.

Some physicians have become accustomed to this type of communication and lost sight of its impact on the family; some doctors may have become hardened and this hardness can translate into interpersonal challenges at work or even in their personal lives.

Receiving abrupt or callous communication may foment anger in family members or increase longer-lasting emotional trauma for the family member, which increase the likelihood of complaints or even lawsuits against the physician, the facility or other care providers.

Continual exposure to this unfortunate duty naturally desensitizes physicians, increases job stress, reduces job satisfaction, increases the likelihood of harsh communication with other personnel, and may cause long-term effects similar to PTSD in physicians. Something must be done to help them.

How do we know this is a problem (C2)?–breaking-bad-news-to-families-of-hospitalized-patients?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Why does this problem exist? (C2)

X Lack knowledge about the problem(s)
X Lack strategies to apply knowledge to practice (competence)

What do attendees need? (C2)

Attendees need education on how to communicate with families in supportive, clear and compassionate ways; and effective self-management techniques to reduce their own stress resulting from these difficult interactions.

Learning Objectives (C3)

At the conclusion of this activity, the learners will be able to:

• Know the precise words to use to communicate this grievous news
• Have a simple-to-follow preplanned routine to deliver the news as gently as possible
• Be prepared for a compassionate, dignified exchange with the family
• (Potentially) minimize complaints or lawsuits against them or the facility
• Understand the toll this recurring interaction takes on them as professionals and humans
• Know and be able to execute the self-balancing strategy for emotional equilibrium
• Discover and apply their personal resilience in healthy ways
• Apply the new knowledge in practice as necessary

(IMQ’s CLC requirement)

Educational Delivery Method (C5):

  • Lecture
  • Question and answer session
  • Handout for future reference
  • “Cheat Sheet” – business-card sized offering exact language and precise instructions (given to every participant)

Rationale for Delivery Method (C5):

  • Knowledge conveyed in a short time
  • Application of knowledge applies to all aspects of the physician’s practice

Professional Competencies (C6):

□ Interpersonal and Communication Skills – Provide communication that is compassionate and appropriate when informing families that their loved one is dead or dying.
□ Professionalism – Significant reduction in physician stress and the concomitant negative effects stress has on teamwork with other healthcare personnel; percentage of errors caused by chronic stress; and an increased confidence and awareness of how the proper communication at this critical time in the life of family can speed healing in those families. Increased physician mental health and well-being


Wendy is available for web-based activities as well as in-person activities. She can also produce pre- and post-test questions if your organization requests for compliance with the AMA’s assessment requirement for online activities.

To talk about bringing Wendy to your next CME training event, contact us here or call 800.278.8706 x711