How To Talk About It:  “Crucial Conversations” With Burn Survivors

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By Karen Badger, PhD, MSW, and Liz Dideon Hess, LCSW

Nearing the end of his shift, a nurse enters his patient’s room for a quick, routine check of his patient’s vital signs.During a casual conversation, his patient, who has experienced third-degree burns over his legs and torso, tells the nurse he is very worried about his future relationships and discloses his fear that he will be unattractive to others. A routine interaction has become a potential “crucial conversation” important in the burn survivor’s course of recovery. 

At the American Burn Association (ABA) Annual Meeting this spring, the Aftercare and Reintegration Committee (ARC) will host a 2-hour forum for burn professionals entitled “How to Talk About It: Crucial Conversations With Burn Survivors.” The focus of the forum, which will be held on April 26, is on preparing healthcare professionals to effectively discuss this and other sensitive topics to support burn survivors and their families on their post-burn recovery. Participants will learn to identify topics that can transform into “crucial conversations” important to a burn survivor’s psychosocial adjustment and quality of life after a burn injury. 

A routine interaction can become a "crucial conversation."Forum presenters will share communication skills and strategies that can help professionals engage in and contribute to meaningful discussions with their patients. Barriers to engaging in such discussions will also be shared, as well as bestpractice guidelines for healthcare professionals when responding to sensitive questions or initiating difficult conversations. Presenters will include both burn survivors and healthcare professionals, who will share their experiences and recommendations from their own perspectives. Specific strategies and patient-centered communication skills for successful crucial conversations will be described and demonstrated. 

As part of its ongoing commitment to developing awareness of the needs of burn survivors and their families, ARC offers educational forums each year at the ABA Annual Meeting. In the past, these forums have addressed topics such as body image, social skill development, and peer support—priority areas of ARC and its aftercare and rehabilitative initiatives.

ARC was formed in 2007 as a collaborative effort between the ABA and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. The committee’s diverse membership includes burn care professionals, burn survivors, family members of survivors, and members of the fire service. Its mission is to “coordinate the efforts of the American Burn Association and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors to establish standards of aftercare for those impacted by burn trauma in the areas of rehabilitation and reintegration.” 

The members of ARC are excited about the opportunity to be part of the ABA Annual Meeting program and host this forum about crucial conversations. We hope that you will join us in Palm Springs, California, on April 26. 

Please contact the Phoenix Society for more information about ARC.

Karen Badger, PhD, MSW, is an associate dean and associate professor at the College of Social Work, University of Kentucky. Liz Dideon Hess, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in the Burn Center at Lehigh Valley Health Network, Allentown, Pa. Both are members of the Aftercare Reintegration Committee.


This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support News, Issue 1, 2013. Burn Support News is a quarterly publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.

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