Epner’s commitment to education is reflected in his work to train cancer clinicians how to face a variety of difficult conversations with patients and their families, including those pertaining to end-of-life issues. He developed a communication skills curriculum for MD Anderson medical oncology fellows in close collaboration with Walter Baile, M.D., professor in Behavioral Science, and he continues to lead that program in its sixth year. He also leads psychosocial education for palliative and rehabilitation fellows.
“According to adult education theory, learners learn best when they are challenged but not intimidated,” Epner says. “We engage doctors and other providers using novel techniques, such as interpretation of stories and cinema, enhanced role play, reflective writing, and peer-assisted teaching.”
Epner frequently leads seminars and workshops for doctors and other providers at MD Anderson and elsewhere on topics related to a variety of difficult conversations and ethical issues. He has helped organize and has taught at several meetings in the Middle East sponsored by the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Middle Eastern Cancer Consortium.
Epner, who joined MD Anderson as an associate professor in General Oncology in 2008, transitioned to his current department in 2012 and to his current position in 2014. From 2010 to 2012, he also served as medical director of the International Center.
As a medical oncologist, Epner previously spent 14 years on the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine and the Houston VA Medical Center, where he was principal investigator of a translational cancer research lab and later served as chief of hematology/oncology. He serves on a number of committees, including the GME Curriculum Subcommittee, which he chairs.
A graduate of Stanford University, Epner earned his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine. He completed postgraduate training at UT Southwestern Medical School, UCLA School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he did his medical oncology fellowship. He is board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and hospice and palliative medicine.
Epner has published 32 peer-reviewed academic articles, his most recent ones focusing on communication and communication skills training. He has published stories in the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s Art of Oncology series that serve as enduring educational resources. He also has contributed chapters to eight books, including a chapter on communications for health care providers in Advances in Cancer Survivorship Management (Springer, 2014). In addition, he has contributed to the e-book Discussing Prognosis, published by ASCO, and the video Language of Caring: Skill Building, produced by patient care advocate Wendy Leebov.
MD Anderson nominated Epner for the ASCO Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015 and the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2012.