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Innovative curriculum for second-year Harvard-MIT medical students: practicing communication skills with volunteer patients giving immediate feedback

Authors Ali NB, Pelletier SR, Shields HM

Received 20 February 2017

Accepted for publication 20 April 2017

Published 19 May 2017 Volume 2017:8 Pages 337—345

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/AMEP.S135172

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Md Anwarul Majumder


Nadaa B Ali,1 Stephen R Pelletier,2 Helen M Shields1

1Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 2Center for Evaluation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Purpose: Medical students are expected to develop excellent communication skills. The purpose of our study was to create an innovative communication skills exercise using real volunteer patients and physician co-teachers for students to practice communication skills while receiving immediate feedback.
Method: This is a mixed methods study where second-year medical students participated in the communication skills exercise with real patients and physician co-teachers giving immediate feedback. Clinical scenarios reflected the patients’ actual experiences. Students acted out roles as physicians. Physicians co-taught with the patients and gave immediate feedback to students. Students completed an anonymous written survey at the end of the exercise. Qualitative and quantitative responses were recorded. Student feedback from the 2014 surveys was used to modify the teaching designs to increase active role play opportunities by having only two students in each group and doubling the number of stations with real patients.
Results: Students rated the overall exercise and the utility of patient volunteers in learning how to communicate on a Likert scale of 1–5, where in this medical school traditionally 1 is excellent and 5 is poor. In 2014, the exercises were rated with a mean score of 1.47 (SD 0.621). In 2015, the exercises were rated with a mean score of 1.03 (SD 0.62). In 2016, the exercises were rated with a mean score of 1.27 (SD 0.52). ANOVA analysis (p=0.002) and Bonferroni corrections indicate a statistically significant difference between combined mean scores of the exercise in 2014 and 2015 (p=0.001). No difference was shown between 2014 and 2016 or 2015 and 2016.
Conclusions: Medical students rated practicing communication skills with real patient volunteers and physician co-teachers giving immediate feedback in their preclinical years very highly. Student feedback indicated that they preferred active roles and increased opportunities to practice their communication skills.

Keywords: communication skills, real volunteer patients, immediate feedback, medical students, innovative curriculum, undergraduate medical education

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