"Still Caring for the Family": Condolence Expression Training for Pediatric Residents


CONTEXT: Insufficient communication from the medical team following a child's death may compound parental grief. Pediatric residents care for children who die, yet the landscape of condolence expression education within residency programs has not been studied. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to evaluate pediatric residents' levels of experience and comfort with condolence expression and to assess their needs and desires for training in condolence expression. METHODS: A cross-sectional, mixed-methods survey was developed by palliative care clinicians in collaboration with bereaved parents. In 2020, following pilot testing, an electronic survey measuring resident experience with, comfort with, and training on condolence expression was distributed to 202 third-year pediatric residents across 17 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited programs representing varying sizes and geographic regions. RESULTS: Ten percent of pediatric residents surveyed reported having training on condolence expression. Almost all residents considered condolence expression to be beneficial for bereaved families and most for clinicians, too, yet very very few had formally expressed condolences in their roles as physicians: 83.1% had never written a condolence letter; 85% had never made a condolence phone call; and 90.5% had never attended a memorial event. Commonly reported barriers to condolence expression included lack of experience and training, as well as concern about upsetting families. CONCLUSIONS: Pediatric residents lack comfort with and training in condolence expression and desire education to address these gaps. These findings should inform development and investigation of educational resources and training opportunities for residents to learn and practice compassionate provision of condolences to grieving families.

Publication Title

Journal of pain and symptom management