In 1998 we reported on the rise and fall of medical student communication skills during the 4 years of medical school. Since then, the University of Connecticut School of Medicine has completed a major curriculum renewal project with an emphasis on early clinical work, lifelong learning and more ambulatory training. The goals of this study were to compare students' interviewing and interpersonal skills in standardised patient (SP) assessments in the old and new curricula and to assess the success of the new curriculum in preventing a decline in student skills in this domain.Methods
The clinical skills of 202 students were measured longitudinally during encounters with SPs in each of their 4 years of medical school. Students in this study and the earlier study were evaluated using the Arizona Clinical Interviewing Rating (ACIR) Scale.Results
Compared with students from the previous curriculum, students on the new curriculum in this study showed an improvement in ACIR scores. Year 1 mean ACIR scores (1 = poor to 5 = excellent) were, respectively, 3.6 for the old curriculum cohort and 4.0 for the new curriculum group. In Year 4 the mean score for the old curriculum cohort was 3.7 and that for the new curriculum group was 3.8. Students on the new curriculum still showed a decline in ACIR scores from Years 1 to 4, but it was not as severe a decline as it had been previously.Conclusions
Pre-clinical medical students perform better on measures of interpersonal communication than their clinical counterparts. The students who participated in the new curriculum demonstrated an earlier acquisition of and a less steep decline in interviewing and interpersonal skills during the course of medical school.