Background: The traditional remedies applied by medical schools to the perennial problem of teaching "caring competence" have been unsuccessful. Purpose: Our purpose was to design and evaluate a simple and effective method for helping students maintain affective contact with their patients. Methods: Third-year medical students and pediatric residents were given the opportunity to talk informally with parents of medically ill children and reflect on the value of this experience for their learning. Trainees' opinions of the experience were measured with focus groups and a questionnaire. Results: Trainees were delighted with the experience, particularly with the following aspects: the opportunity to hear a personally relevant story told in a sincere manner, the realization that they could have an authentic interaction "even" in a medical setting, and the usefulness of the information they derived from the conversation. Conclusions: We concluded that something unique to the conversational experience has educational value.
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