Delivering Serious News
In this course, you'll learn how to improve your communication skills and connect more deeply with your patients.
Taking your communication skills from
good to great
can have a bigger impact than you think.
For Patients
Good communication with clinicians:
Can help lessen pain and physical symptoms
Improve a patient's adjustment to illness
Increase adherence to treatment
Result in higher satisfaction with care
For Clinicians
Good communication skills:
Help clinicians enjoy and thrive in their work
Are associated with less stress and burnout
Result in fewer malpractice claims
Get ready
for a different kind of course
This course is built around a story in which you play a key role-- a communication coach helping (fictional) clinicians working with seriously ill patients in a medical facility. They'll be seeking advice on how to deliver serious news more effectively. Your main job is to watch them in action (via video clips) and advise them on how they can do better. If you need help along the way, you can investigate the rich collection of available learning resources.
What you'll do

The course is composed of a series of tasks. Once you begin, for each task you'll see a message telling you what work you need to do. You'll do all your work right in the course website, and will have the opportunity to compare your work against experts' responses. You'll do things like:

Plan for an effective meeting with a patient

Watch videos of clinicians meeting with patients and provide advice on what they could do differently

Create a toolkit of practices you'll use with your own patients

How this course works
Task structure

This highly interactive course is divided into a series of 15 tasks, each of which you should plan on spending approximately 20-30 minutes to complete, for a total of about 6 hours.

Each task starts with a message explaining the work you need to do; then usually you have the option of either starting your work or accessing the learning resources to help you before you start. These learning resources are always available so you can learn whenever you're curious and ready.

While we recommend that you complete each task in one sitting, you can take breaks whenever you need. You'll automatically return to where you left off. 

Learning resources

Learning resources, including modeling videos, expert advice videos, research articles, and websites are available for you to learn about each of the skills addressed in this course. As you do your work, click on the “Learning Resources” button to find this material.We also strongly recommend that you purchase the book Mastering Communication with Seriously Ill Patients: Balancing Honesty with Empathy and Hope by Anthony Back, Robert Arnold and James Tulsky to supplement the resources you can access within the course website.

The course is designed for you to seek out learning resources proactively, whenever during each task you're most curious to learn. We encourage you to spend time with these resources to help you do better on your task assignments, and more importantly, to help you improve in your real world practice.


While you can use this course alone, you'll get more out of the experience if you find a learning "buddy." Many studies demonstrate that people learn more effectively if they can trade insights with a peer during the learning process. For example, you could agree with your buddy to work on a task, and set a date to spend 15 minutes sharing insights over a cup of coffee. Not only does this give you an incentive to do the next step, the act of articulating your insights will help you learn more. Even if you work with a buddy, you'll work on each task individually.

It takes work

In this program, you’ll learn as much as you try to learn. You could do the work without accessing the learning resources at all, in which case, you won’t learn a whole lot. On the other hand, if you take it upon yourself to explore and use what you learn from the learning resources – if you really test your intuitions and try your best – you’ll find terrific insights, lessons learned, modeling, and research available to learn from.

Want more?

If you love what you're learning to do, more online courses will be available, and consider joining an in-person, extended workshop where you'll learn to do even more with a community of your peers, led by experts from the Vital Talk team.

Our Experts
Anthony Back MD
Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The landscape of patient and clinician is changing so rapidly that we have to keep innovating.
Anthony Back MD
Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The landscape of patient and clinician is changing so rapidly that we have to keep innovating.
James Tulsky MD
Chair, Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Chief, Division of Palliative Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
One of the most gratifying things I do is create interventions that enable doctors to become better.
Kelly Edwards PhD
Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
I want to build a network of mentors and a community of practice through VitalTalk.
Robert Arnold MD
Leo H. Creip Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh
I never want to stop being a doctor - talking to patients and families is the best work I do.
Ready to go?
Register here!