Open Access Research article

Peer role-play and standardised patients in communication training: a comparative study on the student perspective on acceptability, realism, and perceived effect

Hans M Bosse1*, Martin Nickel1, Sören Huwendiek1, Jana Jünger2, Jobst H Schultz2 and Christoph Nikendei2

Author Affiliations

1 Clinic I General Paediatrics, Centre of Child and Adolescent Medicine, Heidelberg, Germany

2 Department of Psychosomatic and General Internal Medicine, University of Heidelberg Medical Hospital, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Education 2010, 10:27  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-10-27

Published: 31 March 2010



To assess the student perspective on acceptability, realism, and perceived effect of communication training with peer role play (RP) and standardised patients (SP).


69 prefinal year students from a large German medical faculty were randomly assigned to one of two groups receiving communication training with RP (N = 34) or SP (N = 35) in the course of their paediatric rotation. In both groups, training addressed major medical and communication problems encountered in the exploration and counselling of parents of sick children. Acceptability and realism of the training as well as perceived effects and applicability for future parent-physician encounters were assessed using six-point Likert scales.


Both forms of training were highly accepted (RP 5.32 ± .41, SP 5.51 ± .44, n.s.; 6 = very good, 1 = very poor) and perceived to be highly realistic (RP 5.60 ± .38, SP 5.53 ± .36, n.s.; 6 = highly realistic, 1 = unrealistic). Regarding perceived effects, participation was seen to be significantly more worthwhile in the SP group (RP 5.17 ± .37, SP 5.50 ± .43; p < .003; 6 = totally agree, 1 = don't agree at all). Both training methods were perceived as useful for training communication skills (RP 5.01 ± .68, SP 5.34 ± .47; 6 = totally agree; 1 = don't agree at all) and were considered to be moderately applicable for future parent-physician encounters (RP 4.29 ± 1.08, SP 5.00 ± .89; 6 = well prepared, 1 = unprepared), with usefulness and applicability both being rated higher in the SP group (p < .032 and p < .009).


RP and SP represent comparably valuable tools for the training of specific communication skills from the student perspective. Both provide highly realistic training scenarios and warrant inclusion in medical curricula. Given the expense of SP, deciding which method to employ should be carefully weighed up. From the perspective of the students in our study, SP were seen as a more useful and more applicable tool than RP. We discuss the potential of RP to foster a greater empathic appreciation of the patient perspective.