Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations

Thursday, April 28, 2022

To be successful in today's healthcare environment, clinicians more often aspire to navigate tough conversations with their patients.

Dr. Bruce Peyser, GIM professor of medicine and Associate Director of Ambulatory Medical Student Education, has seen this coming, has felt the challenge personally, and has chosen to bring professional education to Duke clinicians. He picked “VitalTalk” as the training organization.


The team from VitalTalk offers trainings that “make communication skills for serious illness learnable”. Its co-founder is a former faculty member from DGIM, Dr. James Tulsky, now with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The VitalTalk group engages trained actors as standardized patients. The providers each have a conversation with a "patient" and then the group would be able to give feedback, all in a confidential setting.

"As healthcare providers, we want to be more comfortable navigating those uncomfortable conversations with our patients," says Peyser. "This session truly helped me understand how to better communicate with my patients."

This isn't the first training session with VitalTalk. Last year, with this model, our Duke Palliative Care team presented trainings on how to have “goals of care” conversations with their patients. To learn more, see their online video library

Peyser expects and looks forward to all experiencing a transformative outcome because of effective communication.