Assessing the training needs of medical students in patient information gathering

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Gilligan, Conor
Brubacher, Sonja P
Powell, Martine B
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BACKGROUND: Effective communication is at the heart of good medical practice but rates of error, patient complaints, and poor clinician job satisfaction are suggestive of room for improvement in this component of medical practice and education. METHODS: We conducted semi-structured interviews with experienced clinicians (n = 19) and medical students (n = 20) to explore their experiences associated with teaching and learning clinical communication skills and identify targets for improvements to addressing these skills in medical curricula. RESULTS: Interviews were thematically analysed and four key themes emerged; the importance of experience, the value of role-models, the structure of a consultation, and confidence. CONCLUSIONS: The findings reinforce the need for improvement in teaching and learning communication skills in medicine, with particular opportunity to target approaches to teaching foundational skills which can establish a strong grounding before moving into more complex situations, thus preparing students for the flexibility required in medical interviewing. A second area of opportunity and need is in the engagement and training of clinicians as mentors and teachers, with the findings from both groups indicating that preparation for teaching and feedback is lacking. Medical programs can improve their teaching of communication skills and could learn from other fields s to identify applicable innovative approaches.

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BMC Medical Education

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© The Author(s). 2020. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

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Health services and systems

Public health

Curriculum and pedagogy

Applied and developmental psychology

Forensic psychology

Communication skills

Faculty development

Medical interviewing

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Gilligan, C; Brubacher, SP; Powell, MB, Assessing the training needs of medical students in patient information gathering, BMC Medical Education, 2020, 20 (1), pp. 61:1-61:11