, Volume 24, Issue 11, pp 1217-1222

Nonverbal Sensitivity in Medical Students: Implications for Clinical Interactions

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Clinicians’ accuracy in perceiving nonverbal cues has potentially important consequences, but has received insufficient research.

OBJECTIVE

To examine the relation of medical students’ nonverbal sensitivity to their gender and personal traits, as well as to their communication and impressions made during a standardized patient (SP) visit.

DESIGN

Psychometric testing, questionnaire, and observation.

SETTING

One US medical school.

PARTICIPANTS

Two-hundred seventy-five third-year medical students.

MEASUREMENTS

Nonverbal sensitivity and attitudes were measured using standard instruments. Communication during the SP visit was measured using trained coders and analogue patients who viewed the videotapes and rated the favorability of their impressions of the student.

RESULTS

Nonverbal sensitivity was higher in female than male students (P < 0.001) and was positively correlated with self-reported patient-centered attitudes (P < 0.01) and ability to name one’s own emotions (P < 0.05). It was also associated with less distressed (P < 0.05), more dominant (P < 0.001), and more engaged (P < 0.01) behavior by the SP, and with more liking of the medical student (P < 0.05) and higher ratings of compassion (P < 0.05) by the analogue patients. Correlations between nonverbal sensitivity and other variables were generally stronger and different for male than female students, but nonverbal sensitivity predicted analogue patients’ impressions similarly for male and female students.

CONCLUSION

Medical students’ nonverbal sensitivity was related to clinically relevant attitudes and behavioral style in a clinical simulation.