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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Assessing medical students' attitudes towards learning communication skills – which components of attitudes do we measure?

Tor Anvik1*, Tore Gude2, Hilde Grimstad3, Anders Baerheim4, Ole B Fasmer5, Per Hjortdahl6, Are Holen7, Terje Risberg8 and Per Vaglum2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, N-9037 University of Tromsø, Norway

2 Department of Behavioural Sciences in Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, N-0317 University of Oslo, Norway

3 Department of Public Health and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7489 Trondheim, Norway

4 Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, N-5020 University of Bergen, Norway

5 Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, N-5020 University of Bergen, Norway

6 Institute of General Practice and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, N-0317 University of Oslo, Norway

7 Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7489 Trondheim, Norway

8 Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, N-9037 University of Tromsø, Norway

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BMC Medical Education 2007, 7:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-7-4

Published: 30 March 2007

Abstract

Background

The Communication Skills Attitudes Scale (CSAS) created by Rees, Sheard and Davies and published in 2002 has been a widely used instrument for measuring medical students' attitudes towards learning communication skills. Earlier studies have shown that the CSAS mainly tests two dimensions of attitudes towards communication; positive attitudes (PAS) and negative attitudes (NAS). The objectives of our study are to explore the attitudes of Norwegian medical students towards learning communication skills, and to compare our findings with reports from other countries.

Methods

The CSAS questionnaire was mailed simultaneously to all students (n = 3055) of the four medical schools in Norway in the spring of 2003. Response from 1833 students (60.0%) were analysed by use of SPSS ver.12.

Results

A Principal component analysis yielded findings that differ in many respects from those of earlier papers. We found the CSAS to measure three factors. The first factor describes students' feelings about the way communication skills are taught, whereas the second factor describes more fundamental attitudes and values connected to the importance of having communication skills for doctors. The third factor explores whether students feel that good communication skills may help them respecting patients and colleagues.

Conclusion

Our findings indicate that in this sample the CSAS measures broader aspects of attitudes towards learning communication skills than the formerly described two-factor model with PAS and NAS. This may turn out to be helpful for monitoring the effect of different teaching strategies on students' attitudes during medical school.