The impact of undergraduate occupational therapy students’ interpersonal skills on their practice education performance: A pilot study

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Abstract

Background/aim

Interpersonal skills such as active listening, verbal communication and body language are essential competencies for occupational therapists, and students are expected to demonstrate these skills when completing practice placements. To investigate whether interpersonal skills are predictive of occupational therapy students’ practice performance.

Methods

A cross-sectional study was conducted involving third and fourth year occupational therapy undergraduate students (n = 70). Students’ interpersonal skills were measured using the Interpersonal Communication Competence Scale (ICCS), Listening Styles Profile (LSP-R) and Active-Empathic Listening Scale (AELS). Students’ practice performances at the mid-way and final points of their placements were measured using the Student Practice Evaluation Form-Revised (SPEF-R). The relationships between students’ interpersonal skills and practice performance were examined using univariate and multi-variate regressions.

Results

Higher ICCS Interaction Management subscale scores predicted better SPEF-R Self-Management Skills at the mid-way point through practice placements (β = 1.93, SE = 0.76), and better Professional Behaviours (β = 1.28, SE = 0.64) and better Service Evaluation Skills (β = 2.84, SE = 0.95) at the final SPEF-R completion point. Higher ICCS Empathy subscale scores predicted lower SPEF-R Documentation scores at the mid-way point (β = −0.81, SE = 0.38), while higher ICCS Supportiveness subscale scores predicted lower mid-way SPEF-R Service Provision scores (β = −2.84, SE = 1.77). No ICCS subscale scores were predictive of the SPEF-R communication, co-worker communication and information gathering subscale scores. As well, LSP-R and AELS subscale scores were not predictive of the SPEF-R subscale scores.

Conclusion

While predictive relationships were not found between occupational therapy students’ communication, co-worker communication and information gathering skills, this preliminary evidence indicates that students’ interpersonal skills (including interaction management and empathetic supportiveness) were predictive of some notable SPEF-R competencies (including Professional Behaviours, Self-Management, Documentation, Service Provision and Service Evaluation). Therefore, students’ exposure to professional interpersonal skills should be incorporated into the curriculum of academic education programs with the aim of better preparing them for practice education.

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