Evidence demonstrates that medical students have limited experience in developing ‘higher-order communication skills’ (Kaufman et al. 2000). Anecdotally many do not feel confident in their ability to conduct difficult conversations often due to a lack of exposure to such scenarios in practice or a pervasive notion that these scenarios are inappropriate for students and beyond the scope of a junior doctor’s role and thus not a focus of curriculums (Noble et al. 2007). There is however a correlation between level of clinical experience and improved confidence for medical students (Morgan and Cleave-Hogg 2002).
We surveyed a group of final year medical students to assess their confidence using a 10-point Likert scale in tackling common palliative and end of life care scenarios. Our intervention comprised a study day of 10 practical small-group teaching simulation and OSCE-style stations designed to provide exposure to common experiences in a controlled setting. We reassessed the confidence of students after delivery and objectively explored the impact of the day by asking participants to complete a validated assessment before and after the course. All results showed significant improvement on t-testing: confidence in end of life communication in an OSCE setting improved by 42.2% and assessment marks improved by 24.7% (p=0.039).
Palliative care is an area in which students approaching the end of undergraduate training feel underprepared. Our findings demonstrate that small group sessions improve confidence by facilitating communication practice in a controlled environment and providing crucial exposure to common palliative care scenarios they will face as doctors.