OBJECTIVES: The effect of introducing professional skills training on students' patient-centred attitudes and perceptions of ability to communicate was examined. The professional skills training included weekly training in communication skills, ethics and law, and clinical skills. METHODS: Consecutive cohorts of medical students receiving a traditional pre-clinical curriculum (n = 199) and a new curriculum including professional skills training (n = 255) were compared. Students completed the Doctor-Patient Scale to assess patient-centred attitudes and an 11-item scale to assess confidence in their ability to communicate with patients. Students completed the measures at the start of Year 1 and the end of Year 2. RESULTS: Students receiving the professional skills training showed increased confidence in communicating with patients and increases in 2 dimensions of patient-centredness ('holistic care' and 'patient decision making'). Students receiving the traditional curriculum showed increased nervousness in talking to patients. Gender and ethnic differences were found in patient-centredness and confidence in communicating, which were maintained over time. CONCLUSIONS: The introduction of professional skills training was successful in improving students' confidence in their ability to perform specific communicative behaviours and increasing patient-centredness relative to a traditional curriculum.
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