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Comskil: Communication Skills Training Program & Research Laboratory

Since 2005, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s innovative Communication Skills Training Program and Research Laboratory (Comskil) has been teaching surgeons, oncologists, nurses, and others at MSK and other institutions how to communicate with people who have cancer and their families in a productive and sensitive manner. As the nation’s first formally structured communications initiative at a comprehensive cancer center, the program aims to find the most effective and lasting approaches for guiding clinicians at all career stages in serving people with cancer. Each year, more than 100 people participate in a Comskil training.

This unique program has a dedicated staff of teachers and facilitators. The laboratory includes a classroom and six state-of-the-art video-recording training rooms. While the curriculum was developed for providing cancer care, it can be readily adapted for professionals in hospice settings and for those treating people with HIV/AIDS as well as other chronic or life-threatening diseases.

Among the areas of instruction covered are:

  • sharing serious news
  • discussing prognoses and treatment options
  • responding to patient and caregiver anger
  • identifying and addressing palliative needs
  • handling issues related to end-of-life care, death, and dying
  • handling challenging interactions with families
  • responding empathically to patients’ concerns
  • maintaining team communication
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Patricia A. Parker

Patricia A. Parker

Director, Communication Skills Training and Research Program

Smita C. Banerjee

Smita C. Banerjee

Behavioral Scientist

Philip A. Bialer, MD

Philip A. Bialer

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William S. Breitbart, MD -- Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Chief, Psychiatry Service

William S. Breitbart

Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Chief, Psychiatry Service; Jimmie C. Holland Chair

Matthew N. Doolittle

Matthew N. Doolittle

Jeffrey B. Freedman

Jeffrey B. Freedman

Julia A. Kearney

Julia A. Kearney

Talia I. Zaider, PhD

Talia I. Zaider

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Banerjee SC, Manna R, Coyle N, Penn S, Gallegos TE, Zaider T, Krueger CA, Bialer PA, Bylund CL, Parker PA. The implementation and evaluation of a communication skills training program for oncology nurses 2017. Transl Behav Med 2017 Sep;7(3):615-623. 

Banerjee SC, Manna R, Coyle N, Johnson Shen M, Pehrson C, Zaider T, Hammonds S, Krueger CA, Parker PA, Bylund CL. Oncology nurses’ communication challenges with patients and families: A qualitative study. Nurse Educ Pract 2016 Jan;16(1):193-201.

Brown RF, Bylund CL. Communication skills training: Describing a new conceptual model. Acad Med 2008 Jan;83(1):37-44.

Bylund CL, Banerjee SC, Bialer PA, Manna R, Levin TL, Parker PA, Schofield E, Li Y, Bartell A, Chou A, Hichenberg S, Dickler M, Kissane DW. A rigorous evaluation of an institutionally-based communication skills program for post-graduate oncology nurses. Patient Educ Couns 2018 Jun 1. pii: S0738-3991(18)30274-X.

Bylund Cl, Brown RF, Bialer PA, Levin TT, Lubrano di Ciccone B, Kissane DW. Developing and implementing an advanced communication training program in oncology at a comprehensive cancer center. J Cancer Educ 2011 Dec;26(4):604-11.

Coyle N, Manna R, Shen M, Banerjee SS, Penn S, Pehrson C, Krueger CA, Maloney EK, Zaider T, Bylund CL. Discussing death dying and end-of-life goals of care: A communication skills training module for oncology nurses. Clin J Oncol Nurs 2015 Dec;19(6):697-7

Kissane DW, Bylund CL, Banerjee SC, Bialer PA, Levin TT, Maloney EK, D’Agostino TA. Communication skills training for oncology professionals. J Clin Oncol 2012 Apr 10;30(11):1242-7.

Pehrson C, Banerjee SC, Manna R, Johnson Shen M, Hammonds S, Coyle N, Krueger CA, Maloney E, Zaider T, Bylund CL. Responding empathically to patients: Development, implementation, and evaluation of a communication skills training module for oncology nurses. Patient Educ Couns 2016 Apr;99(4):610-616.

Zaider TI, Banerjee SC, Manna R, Coyle R, Pehrson C, Hammonds S, Krueger CA, Bylund CL. Responding to Challenging interactions with families: A training module for inpatient oncology nurses. Fam Syst Health 2016 Sep;34(3):204-12.