Objective: Interpersonal and communication skills are a core area of competency for medical students, residents, and practicing physicians. As reflection and self-assessment are essential components of skill-building, we examined the content of medical students' assessments of their own developing communication skills.
Methods: Between 2000 and 2003, a total of 674 first-year medical students completed self-assessments of their communication skills after viewing videotapes of their interaction with simulated patients. Self-assessment forms were open-ended, providing ample space for students to write about the strengths and weaknesses they observed. Completed forms were coded by two members of the research team trained in content analysis. Students identified an average of 5.0 things that went well (range 1-15, S.D.=2.2) and 2.8 areas for improvement (range 1-9, S.D.=1.3).
Results: The most frequently observed strengths were: elicited information/covered important topics (54%); made a personal connection/established rapport (51%); was supportive/encouraging/helpful (40%); attended to conversational flow and transitions (34%); ensured patient comfort (32%). The most frequently noted weaknesses involved problems with: eliciting information/covering important topics (35%); paralanguage, particularly in terms of tone, rate, volume, and disfluencies such as "uh", "um" (32%); discussing health risks (26%); attending to conversational flow and transitions (23%); students' own comfort/organization/preparation (20%).
Conclusion: We observed that a video-based, open-ended approach to self-assessment is feasible, practical, and informative. While the self-assessments covered a broad scope, students clearly attended to tasks and skills relevant to effective communication and relationship building.
Practice implications: Videotaped clinical encounters allow learners to review their own behavior and make specific comments supported by tangible examples. An open-ended approach to self-assessment of communication skills can serve as one important component of a systematic education and evaluation program.