Do medical students and young physicians assess reliably their self-efficacy regarding communication skills? A prospective study from end of medical school until end of internship
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Background: This prospective study from end of medical school through internship investigates the course and possible change of self- reported self-efficacy in communication skills compared with observers’ ratings of such skills in consultations with simulated patients.
Methods: Sixty-two medical students (43 females) from four Norwegian universities performed a videotaped consultation with a simulated patient immediately before medical school graduation (T1) and after internship (internal medicine, surgery and family medicine, half a year each - T2). Before each consultation, the participants assessed their general self-efficacy in communication skills. Trained observers scored the videos and applied a well-validated instrument to rate the communication behaviour. Results from the two assessment methods were correlated at both time points and possible differences from T1 to T2 were explored.
Results: A close to zero correlation between self-efficacy and observed communication skills were found at T1. At T2, participants’ self-efficacy scores were inversely correlated with levels of observed skills, demonstrating a lack of concordance between young physicians’ own assessment of self-efficacy and observers’ assessment. When dividing the sample in three groups based on the observers’ scores (low <1/3-, medium 1/3 to 2/3-, high competence >2/3), the group of male physicians showed higher levels of self-efficacy than females in all the three performance groups at T1. At T2, those having a high performance score yielded a low self-efficacy, regardless of gender.
Conclusions: The lack of positive correlations between self-efficacy assessment and expert ratings points to limitations in the applicability of self-assessment measures of communication skills. Due to gender differences, groups of female and male physicians should be investigated separately. Those obtaining high-performance ratings from observers, through the period of internship, may become more conscious of how demanding clinical communication with patients may be. This insight may represent a potential for growth, but could in some physicians represent too much of a self-critical attitude. Active supervision of young physicians throughout internship is important in order to help physicians to be more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, in order to gain increased mastery in the art of doctoring.