Medical students’ perceptions towards learning communication skills: a qualitative study following the 2-year training programme.

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International Journal of Medical Education
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Objective: This study aimed to gain an understanding of the perceptions of 4th-year medical students about a training course in communication skills with 'experiential learning' characteristics, completed over the past two years.Methods: Twenty 4th-year medical students were invited to participate in a qualitative study with focus groups. These students were selected randomly, stratifying by gender, from all 4th-year medical students (106) at the Francisco de Vitoria University (Madrid). The students had just completed their communication skills training taught in small groups, with simulated patient interviews and feedback. The focusgroup facilitator used an open-ended discussion guide to explore the students' perceptions. Thematic analysis was used to identify salient themes from these discussions. Results: Sixteen students participated in two focus groups. The discussions revealed two contrasting perceptions: while this learning is considered useful, it nevertheless brings about a great deal of stress, especially regarding student exposure to peers in small-group sessions when interviewing standardised patients, and summative assessment. This generates a range of negative feelings in students that could affect perspective and attitude towards the importance of doctor-patient relationships. Conclusions: Experiential learning is effective in improving students' communication skills. However, these results suggest that use of such strategies requires a strong focus on "student-centred" teaching approaches, in order to minimise some sensitive topics that may arise during the learning. Further research is needed to refine these strategies depending on the teaching situation and to identify different ways of implementing these experiential methods.

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Communication skills, Medical students, Experiential learning, Focus groups, Qualitative study