Hand of hospital patient.


Training Doctors to Talk About Death

August 17, 2016

Death is a part of life, the saying goes, but not when it comes to frank conversations with terminally ill patients.

In an op-ed in Newsweek, NYIT Vice President for Medical Affairs and Global Health Jerry Balentine, D.O., says doctors, nurses, and other caregivers are often reluctant to discuss end of life plans. “Death is considered a taboo topic, until after a patient has passed,” Balentine writes. “This lack of patient-provider communication frequently leads to degraded care and needless suffering.”

It also leads to economic burdens, as patients receive expensive and aggressive treatments with minimal results. Balentine notes that families with cancer patients are nearly three times more likely to declare bankruptcy than other households.

While a patient’s response to a terminal illness is deeply personal and based on numerous factors, medical and health professions schools can evolve their curricula to help new doctors and other health workers on how to have difficult conversations with their patients and how to understand end-of-life treatments.

NYIT’s new Gold Humanism Society rewards osteopathic medical students for patient care that stresses compassion and tact, and its physician assistant students learn how to break bad news to patients in simulation exercises.

“If properly informed, many patients with incurable illnesses may want to forgo painful and expensive treatment, choosing quality over quantity for their remaining days,” Balentine writes. “Silencing such end-of-life discussions fails our terminal patients in their final need.”

Read Jerry Balentine’s op-ed in Newsweek.

This op-ed is part of an NYIT thought-leadership campaign designed to help generate awareness and build reputation for the university on topics of national relevance. Read more op-eds by NYIT experts