Robert M. Arnold, MD

  • Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine
  • Medical Director, UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute

Robert M. Arnold, MD, founded the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics in 1997 and served as Chief until 2022. He is also a Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and the Medical Director of the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute. His research focuses on how clinicians operationalize ethical precepts in the care of seriously ill patients. He works at the interface of communication skills training, medical ethics, and palliative care in an effort to improve clinicians’ skills. His current research focuses on teaching palliative care communication skills to clinicians using both face-to-face courses and new technologies and understanding the impact of these educational interventions. He also works with junior investigators to better understand the impact of primary palliative care interventions in oncology and cardiology. Finally, he is interested in studying health system wide interventions to improve seriously ill patients’ and families’ experiences. He teaches medical students, residents, and fellows from multiple disciplines on doctor-patient communication, medical ethics, and palliative care.

Dr. Arnold is on Twitter! Follow him at @rabob. His hobbies include reading, listening to music, and watching sports.

Education & Training

  • BA (Biology and Philosophy), University of Missouri, 1983
  • MD, University of Missouri, 1983
  • Primary Care Internal Medicine Residency, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, 1986
  • Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, University of Pennsylvania, 1988
  • American Association of Physician and Patient Facilitator in Training, 1997
  • Project on Death in America Faculty Scholar, 2001
  • Brocher Research Scholar, Switzerland, 2013

Representative Publications

Back AL, Arnold RM, Tulsky JA.  Mastering communication with seriously ill patients: Balancing honesty with empathy and hope. Cambridge University Press. 2009.

The book focuses on helping clinicians improve their communication skills with seriously ill patients – topics ranging from serious news, to dealing with strong emotions to talking about goals of care.

Schwarze ML, Campbell T, Cunningham T, White DB, Arnold RM. You can’t get what you want: innovation for end-of-life communication in the ICU. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2016;193(1):14-16.

This article discusses how providers communicate with patients and families during ICU care goal meetings—specifically the words we choose—may interfere with our ability to help assess patient preferences and goals.

Arnold RM, Back AL, Barnato AE, Prendergast TJ, Emlet LL, Kapov I, White PH, Nelson JE. The Critical Care Communication project: improving fellows' communication skills. Journal of Critical Care. 2015;30(2):250-254.

This study developed a 3-day communication skills training program that increased critical care fellows’ self-reported family meeting communication skills.

Tulsky JA, Arnold RM, Alexander SC, Olsen MK, Jeffreys AS, Rodriguez KL, Skinner CSS, Farrell D, Abernethy AP, Pollak KI. Enhancing communication between oncologists and patients with a computer-based training program: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2011;155(9):593-601.

In a randomized, controlled, parallel-group trial, a brief computerized intervention improved how oncologists responded to patients’ expressions of negative emotions.

Click here for a more complete bibliography of Dr. Arnolds’s works.

Research Interests

  • Doctor-patient communication
  • Palliative care
  • Medical ethics
  • Educational interventions