Emotion skills training for medical students: a systematic review

Med Educ. 2007 Oct;41(10):935-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2007.02835.x. Epub 2007 Sep 5.


Objective: To identify emotion skills training methods and outcomes using a systematic review of medical student curricula studies.

Methods: We searched the English language literature listed in the PubMed, Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), PsycINFO and Web of Science databases, from 1980 to the present, using a comprehensive list of emotion skills keywords and subsequent hand searches. A total of 828 articles were initially identified. A manual search yielded 161 articles on broadly defined emotion skills educational programmes for medical students. A more stringent review and hand search of reference lists yielded a final 26 articles that included 'other-directed' emotion skills (i.e. cognitive and behavioural skills intended to manage the emotions of others), a description of the training programme, and assessment data.

Results: Emotion skills courses varied by total number of contact hours (2-64 hours), session frequency (from 1 session per day to 1 session every 6 months), duration (2 weeks to 2 years), pedagogy, patients targeted and educational outcomes. Student evaluation data were positive. Fifteen of 26 studies used objective emotion skills measures. Only 6/26 studies included a control or comparison condition and 5/26 used a randomised, controlled trial (RCT) design. All 5 RCTs showed positive outcomes with modest improvements in emotion communication skills, empathy, use of emotion words, supportive behaviours and enriched patient understanding.

Conclusions: The heterogeneity of emotion skills curricular studies makes direct comparisons difficult. However, all controlled trials showed positive outcomes, suggesting the importance and effectiveness of 'other-directed' emotion skills training. No specific recommendations about curricular amount and frequency, timing and pedagogy can be made.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Psychology / education*
  • Students, Medical
  • Teaching / standards*