Implementation of a communication curriculum in undergraduate dental education-students' opinions during a 5-year development phase

Eur J Dent Educ. 2023 Aug 9. doi: 10.1111/eje.12940. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Communication training has become an essential part of the dental curriculum. The aim of this study was to evaluate the communication curriculum developed and introduced 2016-2021 at the University of Bern, School of Dental Medicine (SDM), Switzerland.

Materials and methods: The curriculum was implemented cumulatively in three phases: (1) lectures and accompanying role plays, (2) forum theatre and trainer-based communication training and (3) self-assessment. Students were surveyed 2016-2021 at the end of each semester using anonymous online questionnaires with five-point Likert scales (0-4).

Results: A total of 191 fourth- and fifth-year students were surveyed, and 165 (86.4%) questionnaires were analysed. The mean age of the participants was 24.2 ± 1.4 and 45.5% were female. While students' opinions about the need to communicate increased during weekly lectures in phase 1, their opinions about their ability to communicate simultaneously decreased. During phase 2, fourth-year students' opinions on the need to communicate with dental patients increased from 3.22 ± 0.61 to 3.73 ± 0.45 (p = .001), anticipated benefits for dentists increased from 2.78 ± 0.71 to 3.43 ± 0.57 (p = .001) and for patients from 3.00 ± 0.76 to 3.47 ± 0.63 (p = .022). Only in phase 3, opinions on the ability to communicate statistically significantly increased for both fourth- (2.34 ± 0.71 to 2.72 ± 0.60, p = .033) and fifth-year (2.20 ± 0.63 to 2.86 ± 0.59, p = .001) students. Preferred teaching and assessment methods were trainer-based communication trainings (73.1%), lectures (67.3%) and self-assessments in the student clinic (59.6%).

Conclusion: Communication curricula in dental education using methods such as lectures and trainer-based communication trainings may additionally need to include self-assessments to be effective from the students' perspective.

Keywords: communication training; dental education; motivational interviewing.