Communication skills assessment: the perceptions of medical students at the University of Nottingham

Charlotte Rees, Charlotte Sheard, Amy McPherson
Medical Education 2002, 36 (9): 868-78

INTRODUCTION: Despite the wealth of literature surrounding communication curricula within medical education, there is a lack of in-depth research into medical students' perceptions of communication skills assessment. This study aims to address this gap in the research literature.

METHODS: Five focus group discussions were conducted with 32 students, with representatives from each of the 5 years of the medical degree course at Nottingham University. Audiotapes of the discussions were transcribed in full and the transcripts were theme analysed independently by 2 analysts.

RESULTS: Two assessment-related themes emerged from the analysis: namely, students' perceptions of formative assessment and students' perceptions of summative assessment. While students seemed to value formative methods of assessing their communication skills, they did not appear to value summative methods like objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs). Students had mixed views about who should assess their oral communication skills. Some students preferred self-assessment while others preferred peer assessment. Although students appeared to value medical educators assessing their communication skills, other students preferred feedback from patients. Although summative methods like OSCEs were criticized widely, students suggested that examinations were essential to motivate students' learning of communication skills.

DISCUSSION: This study begins to illustrate medical students' perceptions of communication skills assessment. However, further research using large-scale surveys is required to validate these findings. Medical educators should provide students with feedback on their communication skills wherever possible. This feedback should ideally come from a combination of different assessors. Over-assessment in other subject areas should be minimized to prevent students being discouraged from learning communication skills.

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