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Q & A with Dr. MaryAnn LoFrumento

What made you decide to help create the BBN Foundation?

Throughout my career as a pediatrician, I have been interested in how we, as physicians, communicate with parents and children. I have been involved in resident and medical student education for three decades and I began to teach communication skills that focused on challenging patients and families. Through this work, I realized the value of role playing and providing residents with tools to help them handle challenging situations. My personal experience as I navigated the medical world for two ill parents, really illuminated for me the problems that poor communication can cause and also how painful the experience can be for a family member. So when approached by Dr. Anthony Orsini who wanted to use his Breaking Bad News PROGRAM to take on the training of residents in the delivery of the most tragic news to parents, I jumped at a chance to merge my educational background and my personal belief that we can be better at this. Using professional actors and making these situations very “real life” for the residents became a very powerful tool for this training. We knew we were on to something. Out of that we created BBN Foundation to take this message to the rest of the country.

What is the biggest impact since BBN started its trainings?

The impact is how it has changed the culture in my own institution and the residents approach to all communication. I have always said that if you can deliver the worse news, you can deliver any news with compassion and sensitivity. You are more careful about your words because as we say “Words matter.”

What have your residents said once they’ve completed the training?

The immediate reaction is often emotional and a collective “wow” at how real it felt. Because of the one on one feedback that is done in a constructive way and in a safe setting, most residents are not defensive when given feedback. Seeing the videos makes it easier to point things out and often it is the resident who says, “Oh, how could I say that” or “I wish I had done this instead.”

Residents a few years out and in their own specialties still look back and comment on how they still remember the session and the training and use it often.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Breaking Bad News?

It is teachable and it sticks. We did not know that going in to this, but we now know that is has a lasting impact on our doctors who are learning at a young age how to do things in a way that will hopefully help, or at least not cause more pain.

What is the thing you’re most excited about for the BBN Foundation?

Our message is getting out and spreading to more hospitals that are recognizing that what we do has value for their doctors and for their patients.  I look forward to hearing from a friend or relative one day, what a compassionate doctor said to them and then finding out this doctor had been a graduate of the program.

I also look forward to having more experienced physicians take he course and not only improve their own skills, but then become models for other doctors. It’s a virus of compassionate communication that I don’t mind becoming contagious. 

Dr. Mary Ann LoFrumento, Vice President of BBN Foundation, has been with BBN Foundation since its beginning. A graduate of Barnard College, she earned her MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her pediatric residency at Babies Hospital/Columbia Presbyterian. Currently, Dr. LoFrumento is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and Medical Director of the Newborn Nursery at Morristown Medical Center and has been involved in resident and medical student education throughout her career.

From her two decades in private pediatric practice to her international health work in Haiti, Dr. LoFrumento has dedicated her professional life to improving the health of children everywhere and training the next generation of physicians.

She is the author and producer of the Simply Parenting series of childcare books and videos for parents and has appeared on radio, television and webinars as a parenting expert.