Morristown Docs Learn the Art of Breaking Bad News

Morristown Medical Center pairs real physicians with performances based on actual cases.

Years ago, it was called bedside manner, a reference to when doctors would share medical news with patients as they lay prone in their beds. Still today doctors are called on to deliver difficult news to patients and families, training they might not have received in their medical school.

The Breaking Bad News (BBN) will be addressing those skills in the Department of Surgery at Morristown Medical Center and the Department of Pediatrics at Goryeb Children’s Hospital.

The Foundation for Morristown Medical Center has awarded a grant to to be used for training young physicians to more effectively and sensitively communicate bad news to patients and families. This grant is to be used for experiential learning programs run by the BBN Foundation which will be held in September and October.

90 Percent Unprepared

Although virtually all physicians are called upon to deliver upsetting news in the course of their practice, only about 10 percent receive any formal training in this skill. As a result, doctors may hide behind confusing medical jargon, shy away from discussing the gravity of the situation or worse, deliver the news bluntly and insensitively, leaving pain and shock in their wake. These experiences stay with patients and their families forever.

Practice with Real “Patients”

To improve physician-patient communication, the BBN Foundation developed a model of experiential learning in which physicians participate in live role-playing sessions presenting bad news to professional actors who portray parents of gravely ill or deceased children. The sessions are observed by trained expert instructors in another room via a live video feed. Immediately after the session, the videotape is reviewed by the physician together with the instructors, giving the participant the opportunity for self-reflection while the BBN instructors make comments and suggestions.

“Atlantic Health System and Goryeb Children’s Hospital have shown their commitment to improving healthcare and developing doctor-patient relationships by teaching their young physicians how to communicate clearly and compassionately,” said Dr. Mary Ann LoFrumento, Assistant Director of Residency at Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center, and Goryeb Children’s Hospital.. “The BBN Foundation’s model of experiential learning is the best way I know how to accomplish that task.”

According to LoFrumento, the model has been used successfully multiple times at the hospitals in the Atlantic Health System, including Morristown Memorial Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center in Summit and Newton Hospital in Newton.
“When bad news is delivered sensitively and respectfully, when patients and families feel that the physician is a partner in helping them get through what may be the hardest time in their lives, what could have been their worst memory can become the moment that the healing can begin,” said Dr. Anthony Orsini, founder of BBN Foundation and neonatologist at Morristown Medical Center. “How you break that bad news, this is an important skill. How you deliver that news will be with them forever.”

For more information on the BBN Foundation or the BBN Model, visit, or email

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