Communication skills teaching and learning in Nepal; what are medical students' perceptions and experiences? A qualitative study

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Oct 29;20(1):391. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02330-y.


Background: Communication skills (CS) are vital for doctors. Indeed, as the most important element of consultations, are highly valued by patients. CS are core, teachable skills, however, have not been widely taught in South Asian medical schools, unlike their western counterparts. Patan Academy of Health Sciences, is one of the first in Nepal to have CS central to its' aims and curriculum. CS are taught from the first weeks of medical school and re-enforced during preclinical study (first 2 years). Our study seeks to explore students' perceptions and experiences of CS teaching in this South Asian, Nepal context.

Methods: This study is a qualitative evaluation of a CS course in Nepal, exploring the experiences and perceptions of participants. The study aims to also identify aspects that were helpful or not for student learning and areas for potential development. A purposive sample of twenty: second, fourth and Intern year students was selected for interview. Data were collected through audio recorded semi-structured interviews following a piloted schedule. Interview transcripts were manually coded and thematically analysed. Codes were arranged into themes and subthemes.

Results: The two main themes: 1. Positivity 2. Experiential learning. Results demonstrate participants' positive perceptions of CS teaching: believing it is important, effective, relevant and valuable for personal development. Participants identified experiential learning features as valuable for CS acquisition. Intern students recognised CS relevance and requested expanding teaching to clinical years,incorporating challenging communication scenarios.

Discussion: This study shows that PAHS' CS course is well perceived and valuable to learners. Experiential learning is powerful for CS development. Expansion of formal, structured CS teaching through all years in a spiral curriculum, should be considered. Violence towards doctors in South Asia is increasing. Students recognised CS teaching's significance in addressing this.

Conclusion: CS teaching,still in its' infancy in South Asia, is a pressing issue for medical educators here. Our study provides evidence it is well perceived with positive impacts in this context, particularly when employing experiential learning. Medical schools in south Asia should be encouraged to incorporate and strengthen their CS teaching curriculum. .

Keywords: Communication skills; Experiences; Medical education; Nepal; Perceptions; Students.