What am I going to say here?" The experiences of doctors and nurses communicating with patients in a cancer unit

Margaret McLean, Jennifer A. Cleland*, Marcia Worrel, Claus Vögele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes a study investigating the provider-patient communication perceptions, experiences, needs, and strategies of doctors and nurses working together in a UK cancer setting. This was a qualitative study using individual interviews and focus group discussions. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to underpin data collection and analysis. Twenty-six staff participated in the project (18 nurses and 8 doctors). Both professional groups identified an inherent emotional strain in their daily interactions with patients. The strategies they adopted to reduce this strain fell into two main categories: (1) Handling or managing the patient to keep negative emotion at bay; and (2) Managing self to keep negative emotion at bay. These strategies allowed staff to maintain a sense of control in an emotionally stressful environment. Most believed that their communication skills were sufficient. In conclusion, communicating with and caring for cancer patients causes considerable psychosocial burden for doctors and nurses. Managing this burden influences their communication with patients. Without recognition of the need for staff to protect their own emotional well-being, communication skills training programs, emphasized in current UK cancer care guidelines, may have little impact on practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 339
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberNOV
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • Cancer - communication
  • IPA
  • Nurse and patient
  • Oncology
  • Physician and patient
  • Stress (psychology)


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