Communication Skills Training in Ophthalmology: Results of a Needs Assessment and Pilot Training Program

J Surg Educ. Mar-Apr 2018;75(2):417-426. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2017.08.011. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Objective: To conduct a needs assessment to identify gaps in communication skills training in ophthalmology residency programs and to use these results to pilot a communication workshop that prepares residents for difficult conversations.

Design: A mixed-methods design was used to perform the needs assessment. A pre-and postsurvey was administered to workshop participants.

Setting: Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School (HMS), Department of Ophthalmology.

Participants: HMS ophthalmology residents from postgraduate years 2-4 participated in the needs assessment and the workshop. Ophthalmology residency program directors in the United States participated in national needs assessment.

Methods: Ophthalmology program directors across the United States were queried on their perception of resident communication skills training through an online survey. A targeted needs assessment in the form of a narrative exercise captured resident perspectives on communication in ophthalmology from HMS residents. A group of HMS residents participated in the pilot workshop and a pre- and postsurvey was administered to participants to assess its effectiveness.

Results: The survey of program directors yielded a response rate of 40%. Ninety percent of respondents agreed that the communication skills training in their programs could be improved. Fifteen of 24 residents (62%) completed the needs assessment. Qualitative analysis of the narrative material revealed four themes; (1) differing expectations, (2) work role and environment, (3) challenges specific to ophthalmology, and (4) successful strategies adopted. Nine residents participated in the workshop. There was a significant improvement post-workshop in resident reported scores on their ability to manage their emotions during difficult conversations (p = 0.03).

Conclusions: There is an opportunity to improve communication skills training in ophthalmology residency through formalized curriculum.

Keywords: Interpersonal and Communication Skills; communication; empathy; graduate medical training; ophthalmology.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Education / organization & administration*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Internship and Residency / methods*
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Ophthalmology / education*
  • Pilot Projects
  • United States