NEW YORK -- “The oncologist told me that my mother has cancer in her lungs,” a seemingly heartbroken Todd Licea is overheard saying.
Licea is coming to terms with a grim diagnosis that has left him devastated.
Despite the gravity of the conversation, all eyes are on Dr. Evan Stewart, a 2nd year medical resident.
“It sounds to me like you’re feeling really guilty about this decision,” Dr. Stewart tells Licea.
It's all part of an exercise where professional actors re-create sensitive, yet typical scenarios for the benefit of young doctors who are seeking to master the art of bedside manner.
“Knowing the right things to say or how to comfort someone or how to help someone think through a difficult decision is not explicitly taught,”
Dr. Ellen Meltzer, an internist and medical ethicist at Weill Cornell New York Presbyterian, told PIX11 News.
Dr. Meltzer spearheads the communication workshops that teach compassion and ethics one doctor at a time.
“There are times that I haven’t even realized that I said something and it’s helpful to the patient and that’s reassuring,” Dr. Stewart said of the workshop.
Licea, the patient in this particular situation, is a seasoned actor who gets paid $25 to $30 an hour to take on various diseases and conditions, learning medical jargon in the process.
Very rarely does he break character and his goals for each session are reasonable.
“I want eye contact, I want a certain level of confidence regardless of what year they’re in,” Licea said. “I want to encourage them to own in.”
“Really the difficult [sessions] are the very emotionally taxing ones,” he explained, “Talking about children or parents. Cancer – the really, really heavy ones.”
In what you could best describe as a mash-up of Hollywood and medicine, the sessions prepare doctors for the most taxing of days.
“The first time I saw an actor portray a patient with cancer I was moved to tears,” recalled Dr. Meltzer. “In the moment it was so hard to find the right thing to say and I realized doctors really needed this opportunity to practice. “