Do students develop better motivational interviewing skills through role-play with standardised patients or with student colleagues?

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Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the USA and reducing the number of smokers by 50% is among the goals of the Healthy People 2010 initiative. Despite its importance, few medical students receive formal training in smoking cessation counselling. Motivational interviewing is a patient-centred, but directive, method of counselling that has been found to be more effective than giving brief advice for motivating smokers to quit. We wanted to determine whether using standardised patients to teach this skill to Year 3 medical students would be more effective than using student role-plays.


We conducted a randomised, controlled trial of 93 Year 3 family medicine clerkship students at our medical school between July 2003 and July 2004. The control group (n = 46) practised motivational interviewing with one another and the intervention group (n = 47) practised with standardised patients trained in motivational interviewing for smoking cessation. At the end of the study all the students conducted an interview with a different standardised patient that was videotaped. The primary outcome was analysis by a trained masked evaluator of the quality of a final videotaped interview using the motivational interviewing treatment integrity code (MITI), which assesses the quality of the interview according to 6 different criteria.


There was no significant difference between the control and intervention groups in the final analyses of the interviews.


According to MITI scores, standardised patient role-plays are similar in effectiveness to student role-plays when teaching basic motivational interviewing skills for smoking cessation to Year 3 medical students.

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