Purpose: Effective communication is the cornerstone of patient-centered care. Early exposure to these skills allows for ample practice, which is ideal for their development. As medical physicists become more front-facing healthcare providers, the importance of communication proficiency increases. This work presents an introductory curriculum to patient communication techniques for medical physics graduate students implemented in multiple institutions.
Methods: This curriculum included didactic and practice components. After an orientation lecture to explain the training structure and expectations (<1hr), students participated in a simulated patient (SP) encounter where they explained to a “prostate patient” (actor) the process and purpose of simulation in radiotherapy (~15min). They then attended an interactive lecture developed with social workers on principles and techniques of effective patient communication (<2hrs) and participated in a second SP encounter (similar to previous but with a "breast patient” or "GI patient") to implement the presented communication methods (<15min). Students filled out pre- and post-training surveys to assess their confidence in patient communication (scale: 0=least confident, 5=most) and an evaluation rubric to score their encounters. Actors used the same rubric to evaluate students’ performance. Survey and encounter scores were compiled and evaluated for a statistically significant increase (1-tailed t-test, alpha=0.05).
Results: This training included 33 students across 4 institutions. Students reported significant increases in preparedness for interacting with patients (mean_pre=2.4, mean_post=3.9, p<0.001), confidence in conveying medical information without technical jargon (mean_pre=3.4, mean_post=4.2, p<0.001), showing empathy (mean_pre=3.9, mean_post=4.2, p<0.03), and actively listening (mean_pre=3.8, mean_post=4.4, p<0.001). Encounter evaluations showed significant increases in scores between initial and final encounters (mean_pre_selfeval=60%, mean_post_selfeval=72%, p<0.001, mean_pre_actor=62% mean_post_actor=86%, p<0.001). Actors scored students’ performance during the final encounter significantly higher than the students’ self-evaluations (p<0.003).
Conclusion: A patient communication introductory curriculum was successfully implemented in four institutions. This training significantly increased both confidence and competence in communication skills for participating students.
Funding Support, Disclosures, and Conflict of Interest: Padilla: Funding for study from Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine. Rodrigues: Funding for study from Duke University Graduate School Bry: The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Research Training Award (RP 170345), The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Award Number TL1TR002647)