Strengths and weaknesses in the consultation skills of senior medical students: identification, enhancement and curricular change

Am Hastings, R K McKinley, R C Fraser
Medical Education 2006, 40 (5): 437-43

INTRODUCTION: This paper seeks to describe the consultation strengths and weaknesses of senior medical students, the explicit and prioritised strategies for improvement utilised in student feedback, and curriculum developments informed by this work.

METHODS: Prospective, descriptive study of students on clinical placements in general practice. All were observed directly by 2 assessors in consultation with 5 patients in a general practice setting. Performance was judged against 5 categories of consultation competence and 35 component competences as contained in a modified version of the Leicester Assessment Package. Specific strategies for improvement were selected from a list of 69 previously formulated strategies.

RESULTS: Data from 1116 students were included. The consultation competences identified most frequently as strengths related to interpersonal skills, while weaknesses were mainly in the domain of clinical problem-solving. The median number of key strengths identified per student was 5, with 5 additional but lesser strengths. A median of 3 key and lesser weaknesses were identified. The average number of strategies selected to address an identified weakness was 1.2. Students rated the assessment process and its impact very positively.

CONCLUSION: The systematic assessment of the consultation competence of medical students by direct observation involving real patients is feasible and facilitates the 'educational diagnosis' of individuals and of their peer group. It has informed development of teaching and generated research hypotheses.

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