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“A key book for communication in cancer and palliative care”

Author: Dr. Sarah Russell
28 March 2017

Dr. Sarah Russell, Head of Research and Clinical Innovation at Hospice UK, reviews the Oxford Textbook of Communication in Oncology and Palliative Care.

There is a new book in town – well actually an updated one from the previous 2011 edition. This is a magnificent communication text book for clinicians, researchers, educators, commissioners and policy makers. It applies to conversations with adults, children and young people.

Written by over 130 authors from 10 countries it is a book of international relevance. Whilst 40 per cent of the authors are from the United States of America (followed by 16 per cent from Australia and the UK), there is a concerted (and successful) effort to appeal to a multi-cultural and professional audience.

This shows in the book – the pedigree of the authors is impeccable as is the scope which appeals to not just the medical or nursing audience but also to other members of the team such as pharmacists, social workers, diagnostic radiologists and chaplaincy.

Available online or in hard back, the textbook is elegant, eloquent and articulate. It moves beyond being just a list of instructional tool kits and communication models (albeit they are there and useful) to telling the historical, philosophical and cultural context of communication skills and education programmes. In other words, it combines the art and science of conversations by engaging and stretching the readers’ heart, mind and soul whilst offering solutions for day to day practice.

Divided into seven sections over 456 pages, the reader is introduced to communication studies in cancer and palliative care, core training curriculum, nursing, speciality curriculums, communication across disciplines, education initiatives as well as research considerations. Within each of these sections there is further detail. For example, shared decision making and the ethics of communication. Gender and power is discussed as is talking to a child whose parent is dying and communication education for patients.

There is humour in the book underpinned by scholarly evidence and real world clinical experience. I enjoyed ‘Journeys to the centre of empathy’ and was ambushed by the eloquence of other sections such as ‘Communication challenges with the elderly’. I paused for thought reading ‘Responding to depressed patients’ and ‘discussing clinical trials’, ‘genetic risk’, ‘reconstructive and salvage surgery’.

So why do I recommend this book?

  • The excellent organisation and writing of the book makes it easy to dip in and out of.
  • As a nurse, it provides me with evidenced based solutions across a variety of scenarios.
  • For those commissioning, planning, delivering or evaluating communication skills education programmes it provides a wealth of information.
  • For academics and researchers, it is a rich source of up to date evidence.
  • It adds to the rationale for why conversations and discussions should be considered central to policy and practice.
  • I commend this book as a key textbook for communication in cancer and palliative care.

Oxford Textbook of Communication in Oncology and Palliative Care (second edition) edited by David W. Kissane, Barry D. Bultz, Phyllis N. Butow, Carma L. Bylund, Simon Noble, and Susie Wilkinson (2017), published by Oxford University Press.

This article was originally published on the UK edition of ehospice.

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