“I Just Felt Like I Was Stuck in the Middle”: Physician Assistants’ Experiences Communicating With Terminally Ill Patients and Their Families in the Acute Care Setting

Elizabeth Chuang, Richard Lamkin, Aluko A. Hope, Gina Kim, Jean Burg, Michelle Ng Gong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Context Terminally ill hospitalized patients and their families consistently rank effective communication and shared decision-making among their top priorities. Advance practice providers such as physician assistants (PAs) are increasingly providing care in the hospital setting and are often called to communicate with patients and families. A first step to improving PA communication is to better understand PAs’ current experiences in their daily practices. Objectives This study aimed to explore roles PAs serve in communicating with terminally ill patients/families; PAs’ attitudes and opinions about communication roles; and perceived barriers and facilitators of communication with patients/families in the hospital setting. Methods Five focus groups were conducted with PAs practicing on adult medical services at three acute care hospitals of an academic medical center in Bronx, New York. An open-ended question guide was used. An inductive thematic analysis strategy was used to examine the data from transcribed audiotapes of focus group sessions to identify emergent concepts and themes. Results The overarching theme that emerged was being stuck in the middle. PAs experienced ambiguity around their roles and responsibilities in communications between the medical team as well as patients and families; gaps in knowledge and skills; and organizational or structural deficits in the patient care systems that placed them in uncomfortable situations. Conclusion Interventions aimed at improving PA communication with terminally ill patients and their families should target institutional structures, systems, and culture around roles and responsibilities in addition to skill and knowledge gaps to be most effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-34
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2017



  • Palliative care
  • health communication
  • hospital medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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