The effects of cancer patient participation in teaching communication skills to medical undergraduates : a follow-up evaluation
The General Medical Council has emphasised the importance of teaching communication skills to medical undergraduates. A two year follow-up study was undertaken, therefore, to assess the possible short-term and long-term benefits of the participation of cancer patients in communication skills training. Two hundred and forty nine third year students in the academic years 1992-1993 and 1993-94 received communication skills training (9 hours) in small groups: half the students were taught with patients who had cancer and the other half with patients who had another diagnosis. Each student was required to make a videotaped interview. These recorded interviews were evaluated by a trained rater. In addition, students completed a pre-course and post-course Attitude Questionnaire to assess their knowledge of and attitudes toward cancer and its management. Of the 1992-93 cohort of third year students, a sample of 54 students participated in the follow-up evaluation in fifth year. Fifty four Attitude Questionnaires were satisfactorily completed. All of the 54 students made a videotaped interview with a gynaecological cancer patient in a standardised setting. Each interview was rated independently by two raters. Analyses of the third year video recordings revealed differences in interview performance between the two groups. Following the course, between-group analyses and with-in group analyses identified various attitudinal differences. Analyses of the fifth year video recordings revealed that the interview performance of both groups had improved since their third year. However, those students originally taught with cancer patients were more likely to assess the impact of the symptoms on the patient's life. In addition, between-group and within-group analyses of the attitudinal data showed that both groups had retained positive attitudes with regard to the psychosocial aspects of cancer. These findings have implications for training medical undergraduates in communication skills.