Medical Students Assessed on Personal Skills

When I was a medical malpractice investigator, it was common knowledge that a doctor’s poor communication skills often contributed to patient claims, and that a doctor with a great relationship with a patient could sometimes make a mistake and still have the patient on his/her side. The Closed Claim Project confirms this. They note that with two physicians equal in all other ways, patients who sue their doctors tend to more unhappy with the relationship they have with their doctors, than the actual outcome of the care.

With this in mind, it was gratifying to read a New Jersey Star-Ledger article recently, which showed a new program used for medical students interviewing at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Instead of just being assessed on educational background and a personal interview, they’re now assessed partly on their ability to deal with people. They use a structure called a multiple mini interview (MMI). It’s  described as “medical admissions speed dating,” focusing on treating patients as people, not symptoms.

The students go into six to 10 different rooms in short order, pausing first to read a scenario, question or task which may involve a doctor’s personality and possible ethics issues. They then share their insights with the interviewer. The program was developed at McMaster University in Canada, and is used by 17 medical schools there. A handful of schools in the U.S. have adopted it too.

I think that’s a great approach. I recently finished writing a hospital newsletter (volume III) and was impressed writing about an award one physician received from his surgery students. One reason the students liked him so much is that he actually inquired about their personal lives, to see them not just as students, but as people. The resident giving the award said “by the end of our four years…he has somehow learned more information about our personal lives than our parents.”

That’s exactly what patients want as well. To be treated like a person and not a symptom. It’s a good lesson for the medical community.


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