Hypothesis: Structured communication curricula will improve surgical residents' ability to communicate effectively with patients. Design and Setting: A prospective study approved by the institutional review board involved 44 University of Connecticut general surgery residents. Residents initially completed a written baseline survey to assess general communication skills awareness. In step 1 of the study, residents were randomized to 1 of 2 simulations using standardized patient instructors to mimic patients receiving a diagnosis of either breast or rectal cancer. The standardized patient instructors scored residents'communication skills using a case-specific content checklist and Master Interview Rating Scale. In step 2 of the study, residents attended a 3-part interactive program that comprised (1) principles of patient communication; (2) experiences of a surgeon (role as physician, patient, and patient's spouse); and (3) role-playing (3-resident groups played patient, physician, and observer roles and rated their own performance). In step 3, residents were retested as in step 1, using a crossover case design. Scores were analyzed using Wilcoxon signed rank test with a Bonferroni correction. Results: Case-specific performance improved significantly, from a pretest content checklist median score of 8.5 (65%) to a posttest median of 11.0 (84%) (P=.005 by Wilcoxon signed rank test for paired ordinal data)(n=44). Median Master Interview Rating Scale scores changed from 58.0 before testing (P=.10) to 61.5 after testing (P=.94). Difference between overall rectal cancer scores and breast cancer scores also were not significant. Conclusions: Patient communication skills need to be taught as part of residency training. With limited training, case-specific skills (herein, involving patients with cancer) are likely to improve more than general communication skills.
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