Communication skills training for medical students: an integrated approach

W G Irwin, R McClelland, A H Love
Medical Education 1989, 23 (4): 387-94
Skills of communication are not easily taught to medical students. Three main clinical departments (general practice, medicine and mental health) of the Medical Faculty of the Queen's University, Belfast, introduced an integrated course in January 1988 to teach the basic principles. The course is held at the beginning of clinical training and is an integral part of the introductory clinical course. It was introduced in response to the Report of a Working Party of the Education Committee of the General Medical Council (1987) which advocated the need for improved training in history-taking and communication. It is a 12-week course and every Monday and Friday afternoon from 1400 to 1700 hours 12 students are seconded from ward work, four to the Department of Medicine, four to the Department of General Practice and four to the Department of Mental Health. Hand-outs about information to be obtained and interview style are standardized and the principles to be followed are clearly defined in an aide-mémoire. Staff from the Departments of General Practice and Mental Health experienced in teaching communication by videotape feedback and analysis of consultations prepared 12 tutors for their role and responsibilities. Procedures to be followed were carefully explained to all students beforehand. General practice and psychiatry traditionally have established teaching programmes in communication but the inclusion of the Department of Medicine has made a significant impact. Students have come to realize that the taking of a good history demands as much skill as the physical examination of the patient and is an important aspect of any clinical assessment.

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