Objectives: To compare the communication skills shown by medical students during simulated patient interviews between those who received training in communication during the preclinical years and those who did not.
Methods: A retrospective study was conducted to analyze the communication skills of several cohorts of fourth-year medical students from Universitat Internacional de Catalunya during simulated patient interviews. Out of a total of 477 students included in the study, 229 (48%) had received training in communication skills through a 60-hour elective course during the preclinical second year, while the remaining 248 (52%) had received none. Communication skills were assessed by an evaluation team using a numerical scale (0 to 10) that included eight categories: "verbal", "non-verbal", "empathy", "concreteness", "warmth", "message content", "assertiveness", and "respect". Scores obtained by trained and non-trained students were compared using the t-test.
Results: A trend towards obtaining better results was observed among students who had received communication training (mean score: 6.98/10) versus none (6.83/10, t(1,869)=-1.95, p=0.05). Non-trained male students obtained significantly lower mean scores than non-trained females in the categories of "respect" (7.48/10 vs. 7.83/10, t(968)=-2.89, p<0.01), "verbal communication" (6.87/10 vs. 7.15/10, t(968)=-2.61, p=0.01), "warmth" (6.53/10 vs. 6.95/10, t(968)=-3.40, p<0.01), and "non-verbal communication" (6.49/10 vs. 6.79/10, t(968)=-2.48, p=0.01). Trained female and male students had similar scores.
Conclusions: Training in communication skills during the preclinical years may improve fourth-year students' performance in simulated interviews with patients, particularly among males. These results demonstrate the importance of introducing specific training in communication skills early in the undergraduate medical curriculum.
Keywords: medical students' performance; pre-clinical communication training; simulated patient interviews.