Journal of Cancer Education

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 524–529 | Cite as

Communicating with Cancer Patients: What Areas do Physician Assistants Find Most Challenging?

  • Patricia A. ParkerEmail author
  • Alicia C. Ross
  • Maura N. Polansky
  • J. Lynn Palmer
  • M. Alma Rodriguez
  • Walter F. Baile


Physician assistants (PAs) and other midlevel practitioners have been taking on increasing clinical roles in oncology settings. Little is known about the communication needs and skills of oncology PAs. PAs working in oncology (n = 301) completed an online survey that included questions about their perceived skill and difficulty on several key communication tasks. Overall, PAs rated these communication tasks as “somewhat” to “moderately” difficult and their skill level in these areas as “average” to “good.” Areas of most perceived difficulty were intervening with angry patients or those in denial and breaking bad news. Highest perceived skills were in communicating with patients from cultures and religions different than your own and telling patient he/she has cancer or disease has progressed, and the lowest perceived skills were in discussing do not resuscitate orders. There are areas in which enhancement of communication skills may be needed, and educational opportunities should be developed for PAs working in oncology.


Communication Physician assistant Oncology 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia A. Parker
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alicia C. Ross
    • 2
  • Maura N. Polansky
    • 2
  • J. Lynn Palmer
    • 3
  • M. Alma Rodriguez
    • 4
  • Walter F. Baile
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Science—Unit 1330The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Gastrointestinal Medical OncologyThe University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsThe University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Lymphoma/MyelomaThe University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA

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