Position paper: Teaching breaking bad news (BBN) to undergraduate medical students

Orit Karnieli-Miller*, Sharon Pelles, Dafna Meitar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Sharing new medical information that is perceived as seriously effecting people's lives, i.e., breaking bad news (BBN) is important in caring for patients and relatives and is challenging for healthcare professionals. Optimal BBN requires incorporation and implementation of multiple professional competencies acquired gradually throughout years of training. The BBN encounter has implications for all participants: the patient, family members, their close social environments, and the deliverer of the news. Due to these implications and the accountability involved, medical schools invest educational resources in helping medical students develop this competency. The current paper summarizes literature, research, and teaching experiences while suggesting practical guidelines for designing and teaching a BBN course to undergraduate students. The following principles lie behind the recommendations: stepwise spiral continuity of exposure to and teaching of communication skills in various contexts while focusing on BBN in the advanced clinical years; relating the developing skills to broader humanistic studies; enhancing awareness of self-perspectives and beliefs regarding BBN; connecting to patients’ and family members experiences and needs; providing a BBN protocol and opportunities for structured experiential learning followed by reflection and feedback; using observation and reflection to address gaps between theory and real-life practice; and creating continuity of learning about BBN through undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education. Applying this learning process can help enhance the management of these difficult conversations to improve patients’ care during these difficult, life-changing encounters, and physicians’ well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2899-2904
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Breaking bad news
  • Communication skills
  • Difficult conversations
  • Reflective practice
  • Teaching communication


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