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Brain Death Determination: An Interprofessional Simulation to Determine Brain Death and Communicate with Families Focused on Neurology Residents

  • Morris, Nicholas A.1
  • Zimmerman, Eli E.2
  • Pozner, Charles N.3
  • Henderson, Galen V.4
  • Milligan, Tracey A.4
  • 1 Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, Program in Trauma, University of Maryland School of Medicine
  • 2 Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
  • 3 Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School
  • 4 Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Published Article
MedEdPORTAL : the Journal of Teaching and Learning Resources
Association of American Medical Colleges
Publication Date
Sep 25, 2020
DOI: 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10978
PMID: 33005731
PMCID: PMC7521065
PubMed Central


Introduction Significant variation exists in determining brain death despite an expectation of competence for all neurology residents. In addition, family discussions regarding brain death are challenging and may influence organ donation. Methods We developed two simulations of increasing complexity for PGY 2 and PGY 3 neurology residents. High-fidelity mannequins were used to simulate patients; standardized actors portrayed family members. In the first simulation, residents determined brain death and shared this information with a grieving family. In the second simulation, residents determined brain death in a more complicated scenario, requiring ancillary testing and accurate result interpretation. Following the determination, residents met with a challenging family. The residents worked with an interdisciplinary team and responded to the family's emotions, used active listening skills, and supported the family through next steps. Results Twelve residents completed the simulations. Prior to the simulation, three (25%) residents felt comfortable discussing a brain death diagnosis; following the simulation, eight (67%) residents felt comfortable/very comfortable discussing brain death. Prior to the simulation, eight (67%) residents stated they knew prerequisites for performing a brain death examination and seven (58%) agreed they knew indications for ancillary testing; these numbers increased to 100% following the simulation. The number of residents who felt comfortable performing the brain death exam increased from five (42%) to 10 (83%). Discussion This simulation of determining brain death and leading difficult family meetings was well-received by neurology residents. Further work should focus on the effects of simulation-based education on practice variation and organ donation consent rates.

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