ExxonMobil supported a unique social communication and stress management training program for oncologists

ExxonMobil supported a program for training oncologists how to overcome stress and prevent occupational burnout.


ExxonMobil supported a unique social communication and stress management training program for oncologists

When it comes to training medical professionals, the so-called ‘soft skills’ (social communication skills) go into the background. At the same time, the skill of establishing effective communication with patients is equally important for doctors as it is for any other occupation. Successful treatment largely depends on well-established understanding between the doctor and the patient and their concerted efforts, particularly, the doctor’s ability to understand the specific condition and mindset of the patient, which both affect the treatment process.

In 2019-2020, with the support of ExxonMobil the National Women’s Healthcare Foundation (NWHCF) developed and carried out a pilot program to test out some efficient technologies for interpersonal interaction, doctor-patient communication and prevention of the burnout syndrome in a group of oncologists. 

Specialized soft-skill training courses were held for 39 oncologists and radiologists from Moscow and St. Petersburg. 

For instance, at the Healthcare Communication Process Model course, the participants learned about the Process Communication Model® developed by psychotherapist Dr. Taibi Kahler in the late 1970s. Dr. Kahler used the PCM as a basis for developing an efficient communication technique and, particularly in cooperation with NASA, to select spacemen and predict their behavior under stress and in critical situations. 

From 2018, ExxonMobil continued cooperation with NWHCF and the pilot project grew to become a breast cancer support program, the “Together” Center. In 2019, a new concept was incorporated into the project: targeted support for oncologists. 

As a follow-up to the program, 815 patients of the Together Center participated in a rehabilitation program, 4237 consultations were given at the Center and the total audience coverage was more than 200,000 in 27 Russian regions in 2019-2020, all with the support of ExxonMobil.

The soft-skill and stress management program for oncologists was a follow-up of a full-scale charity project for support of women with breast cancer implemented by ExxonMobil in the Central Region of Russia. For more details about the program in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and the Krasnodar Krai, see ExxonMobil Russia Inc. Corporate Social Projects Report 2015-2018

Learn more about ExxonMobil approach to manage impacts to local communities

The PCM is widely practiced at top clinics around the world and it helps establishing an efficient doctor-patient dialog. This in its turn improves patient adherence to treatment, helps unwind and, on the other hand, it makes the patient more satisfied with the treatment process, which ultimately improves the efficiency of treatment as a therapeutic doctor-patient alliance. 

The course members mastered their skills of personality traits diagnostics of patients and self-diagnostics and also gained tools for building efficient models of interaction with people of different personality patterns. 

The trainees also received personal recommendations on stress self-diagnosis and practical stress-coping mechanisms.

Another training course for oncologists and radiologists of Moscow and St. Petersburg, “Vicarious Trauma: How to Help Others with No Self-Harm” focused on another important aspect of doctor-patient relations – the emotional aspect.  Cancer is obviously a dreadful diagnosis and a person with cancer is overwhelmed with negative emotions and worries. However, the life of doctors who work with these patients is also filled with worries. A personal tragedy and grief of another person and great responsibility in the fight for life and health of patients all become part of life of oncologists causing increased stress burden at work and beyond. Despite the dedication and professional adherence, many doctors who deal with seriously ill persons themselves need to be supported. No wonder medical professionals and nurturant care workers more often than others face problem of the burnout syndrome. The vicarious trauma is part of the burnout syndrome and it happens when a doctor cares for those in pain and feels obligated to help them and realizes the burden of responsibility for it. The vicarious trauma may eventually affect a doctor’s physical, psychic and spiritual welfare. 

The training program taught a strategy of overcoming the negative effect of working with suffering patients. Members of the course were given tools to differentiate between fatigue, compassion, secondary trauma, vicarious trauma and burnout symptoms. The oncologists received essential practical recommendations for self-care and improving stress resistance, and more efficient handling of another person’s grief. 

The soft skills they obtained should help improve doctor-patient communication and create a steady psychic and emotional ground for organizing effective treatment. Those who completed the course can then become agents of change at their hospitals while focusing on the concept of establishing effective communication and burnout prevention there. 

“I would like to thank the organizers and teachers of this training course. We learned really important and relevant information today. One, we got a chance to sort ourselves out and understand ourselves better. Two, we learned how to communicate with colleagues. And finally, we learned how to communicate with patients, which is most important. We have different patients with issues. And now, having completed the course, we know patient reactions, which reactions to certain issues to expect and how to deal with it.

That is why the course is so important for us doctors in these difficult times. Today they helped us figure out how and with whom to communicate. Many thanks!”

Olga Manuilova

PhD Medicine, Breast Physician, Head of the Diagnostic Radiology Department at the V.M. Buyanov City Clinical Hospital.

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