Longitudinal and Concentrated Communication Skills Programmes: Two Dutch Medical Schools Compared
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Aim of the study:The communication skills of students of the Dutch medical schools of Maastricht and Leiden were compared, to assess the effectiveness of these schools' different approaches to communication skills training. Both schools have a six-year undergraduate medical curriculum, divided into four preclinical years and two years of clinical clerkships. The Maastricht problem-based curriculum offers an integrated clinical skills training programme, including communication skills, which runs throughout the first four years. Communication skills training in Leiden is concentrated in courses in the preclinical phase, at the beginning of the clinical phase and preceding two clerkships.
Method:Communication skills of fourth-year and sixth-year students (N = 161) of both universities were assessed using four OSCE stations in which students did entire consultations with standardised patients. Trained observers rated these consultations, using a checklist.
Results:Maastricht students of both year groups obtained significantly higher checklist scores for their communication skills than their Leiden colleagues. The Leiden students' scores increase between years 4 and 6, whereas those of the Maastricht students showed no significant change.
Discussion:The higher scores obtained by the Maastricht students indicate a greater overall effectiveness of a longitudinal, integrated approach compared with concentrated courses. Absence of formal training in the clinical phase in Maastricht leads to stabilisation of communication skills, whereas the increase in the Leiden students' scores between years 4 and 6 offers evidence that formal communication skills training during the clinical phase does pay off. These findings suggest that the preferred approach to communication skills training would be an integrated, longitudinal programme, which continues during the clinical years.
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