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Does the inclusion of 'professional development' teaching improve medical students' communication skills?

Katherine Joekes12, Lorraine M Noble1*, Angela M Kubacki12, Henry WW Potts3 and Margaret Lloyd4

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Medical Education, UCL, Archway Campus, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5LW, UK

2 Division of Population Health Sciences and Education, St George's, University of London, Hunter Wing, Cranmer Terrace, London, SW17 0RE, UK

3 Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education, UCL, Archway Campus, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5LW, UK

4 Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health, UCL, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London, NW3 2PF, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:41  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-41

Published: 27 June 2011



This study investigated whether the introduction of professional development teaching in the first two years of a medical course improved students' observed communication skills with simulated patients. Students' observed communication skills were related to patient-centred attitudes, confidence in communicating with patients and performance in later clinical examinations.


Eighty-two medical students from two consecutive cohorts at a UK medical school completed two videoed consultations with a simulated patient: one at the beginning of year 1 and one at the end of year 2. Group 1 (n = 35) received a traditional pre-clinical curriculum. Group 2 (n = 47) received a curriculum that included communication skills training integrated into a 'professional development' vertical module. Videoed consultations were rated using the Evans Interview Rating Scale by communication skills tutors. A subset of 27% were double-coded. Inter-rater reliability is reported.


Students who had received the professional development teaching achieved higher ratings for use of silence, not interrupting the patient, and keeping the discussion relevant compared to students receiving the traditional curriculum. Patient-centred attitudes were not related to observed communication. Students who were less nervous and felt they knew how to listen were rated as better communicators. Students receiving the traditional curriculum and who had been rated as better communicators when they entered medical school performed less well in the final year clinical examination.


Students receiving the professional development training showed significant improvements in certain communication skills, but students in both cohorts improved over time. The lack of a relationship between observed communication skills and patient-centred attitudes may be a reflection of students' inexperience in working with patients, resulting in 'patient-centredness' being an abstract concept. Students in the early years of their medical course may benefit from further opportunities to practise basic communication skills on a one-to-one basis with patients.

communication skills; patient-centredness; medical student; curriculum change; video observation