Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Using standardized patients to assess communication skills in medical and nursing Students

C Anthony Ryan1*, Nuala Walshe2, Robert Gaffney1, Andrew Shanks3, Louise Burgoyne1 and Connie M Wiskin3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Medicine, College of Medicine and Health, Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, University College Cork (UCC), Ireland

2 School of Nursing, College of Medicine and Health, Brookfield Health Sciences Complex, University College Cork (UCC), Ireland

3 Integrative Learning Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:24  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-24

Published: 17 March 2010



A number of recent developments in medical and nursing education have highlighted the importance of communication and consultation skills (CCS). Although such skills are taught in all medical and nursing undergraduate curriculums, there is no comprehensive screening or assessment programme of CCS using professionally trained Standardized Patients Educators (SPE's) in Ireland. This study was designed to test the content, process and acceptability of a screening programme in CCS with Irish medical and nursing students using trained SPE's and a previously validated global rating scale for CCS.


Eight tutors from the Schools of Nursing and Medicine at University College Cork were trained in the use of a validated communication skills and attitudes holistic assessment tool. A total of forty six medical students (Year 2 of 5) and sixty four nursing students (Year 2/3 of 4) were selected to under go individual CCS assessment by the tutors via an SPE led scenario. Immediate formative feedback was provided by the SPE's for the students. Students who did not pass the assessment were referred for remediation CCS learning.


Almost three quarters of medical students (33/46; 72%) and 81% of nursing students (56/64) passed the CCS assessment in both communication and attitudes categories. All nursing students had English as their first language. Nine of thirteen medical students referred for enhanced learning in CCS did not have English as their first language.


A significant proportion of both medical and nursing students required referral for enhanced training in CCS. Medical students requiring enhanced training were more likely not to have English as a first language.