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Anna Brodie is a Pre-registrant Embryologist working at CARE Fertility, London.

Launched in 2020, the ARCS Breaking Bad news event aims to give participants a tool kit to
effectively and sensitively deliver bad news to patients.

The day was led by BICA fertility counsellors Jennie Hunt and Janet Owen and hosted by ARCS
representative Georgina Bartl. The day was partly sponsored by CooperSurgical with reps attending on the day. The attendees on the day were mostly current andrology/embryology STP students and pre-registrant embryologists.

The day started with discussing how everyone currently felt when having to give bad news and why it may be difficult to give bad news. We also discussed the range of bad news patients go through when undergoing infertility and some of the common reactions they can have. This was really useful as a starting point so we could see how we currently felt about delivering bad news as a group.  We then moved onto the framework of giving bad news called the “ABCDE”. This stands for Advance preparation, Building relationships, Communicate well, Deal with reactions and Encourage and validate emotions. Once all of the sections had been talked through, we were split into groups with different scenarios, where we could then discuss what we may find difficult and could see how the framework could be applied to the scenario.
We went through ways to offload after stressful days and possible outlets to maintain a health work/life balance. So important when working within a fertility clinic environment!
Once back together, each group presented what they had came up with, which was very interesting to see how the approaches to delivering bad news varied between scenarios.  Next, we worked on communication and discussed the adaptations needed when giving bad news over the phone, rather than face to face. As embryologists, most conversations are over the phone but after Covid, even more interactions now happen this way. We talked about active listening (and how to realise when we weren’t!), and how we could demonstrate this to the patient over the phone. We also discussed the importance of letting the patient know if their time with you for their appointment was coming to an end to let them prepare themselves.

Following lunch, we formed small groups and did some role play where the patient and embryologist roles were played, with another person observing and giving feedback on what was done well and what could be improved on.  We then went through “support for the messenger” and how delivering bad news and working with emotional patients can also take its toll on staff. We went through ways to offload after stressful days and possible outlets to maintain a health work/life balance. So important when working within a fertility clinic environment!

To round up the day, we reflected on how we were feeling after the course and what we would take back to our own workplaces. Learning outcomes of the day included practicing the framework for giving bad news, improving communication – especially over the phone, and how to realise when giving out bad news had taken its toll on our own selves and ways to switch off at the end of the working day to recharge.  The whole day was very engaging and by the end of it everyone felt much better equipped to deal with breaking bad news. A huge thanks to Jennie and Janet who were excellent and explained everything so clearly and to Georgie for being a fantastic host at the event.
Thanks also to CooperSurgical for the sponsorship and their reps Helen and Mahb helping those attending on the day to chat to delegates. Anyone working in the field should definitely go on this course if they haven’t already!