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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Do communication training programs improve students’ communication skills? - a follow-up study

Anne Simmenroth-Nayda*, Cora Weiss, Thomas Fischer and Wolfgang Himmel

Author Affiliations

Department of General Practice / Family Medicine University of Göttingen, Humboldtalle 38, 37077, Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:486  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-486

Published: 5 September 2012



Although it is taken for granted that history-taking and communication skills are learnable, this learning process should be confirmed by rigorous studies, such as randomized pre- and post-comparisons. The purpose of this paper is to analyse whether a communication course measurably improves the communicative competence of third-year medical students at a German medical school and whether technical or emotional aspects of communication changed differently.


A sample of 32 randomly selected students performed an interview with a simulated patient before the communication course (pre-intervention) and a second interview after the course (post-intervention), using the Calgary-Cambridge Observation Guide (CCOG) to assess history taking ability.


On average, the students improved in all of the 28 items of the CCOG. The 6 more technically-orientated communication items improved on average from 3.4 for the first interview to 2.6 in the second interview (p < 0.0001), the 6 emotional items from 2.7 to 2.3 (p = 0.023). The overall score for women improved from 3.2 to 2.5 (p = 0.0019); male students improved from 3.0 to 2.7 (n.s.). The mean interview time significantly increased from the first to the second interview, but the increase in the interview duration and the change of the overall score for the students’ communication skills were not correlated (Pearson’s r = 0.03; n.s.).


Our communication course measurably improved communication skills, especially for female students. These improvements did not depend predominantly on an extension of the interview time. Obviously, “technical” aspects of communication can be taught better than “emotional” communication skills.