Testing for Life-Saving Communications Skills in Young Doctors

Want to go to medical school? How well do you listen? How well do you work in a team? Those issues are now being tested by the nation’s newest medical school in screening applicants.

This is not just a matter of touchy-feely. Preventable deaths and malpractice have been proven to happen all too often when arrogance trumps smooth teamwork and easy communication among members of medical teams.

But testing communication skills is not so easy. So in the new testing regime created by the leaders of Virginia Tech Carilion medical school, medical school applicants are given a series of quick, speed-dating type interviews where they have to show how they respond to real world scenarios that require good communication and teamwork skills.

Gardiner Harris has a fascinating account in the New York Times about the new program. A key quote from the article brings home its importance:

A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make the hunt for these qualities a priority. The first is a growing catalog of studies that pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.

The second and related trend is that medicine is evolving from an individual to a team sport. Solo medical practices are disappearing. In their place, large health systems – encouraged by new government policies – are creating teams to provide care coordinated across disciplines. The strength of such teams often has more to do with communication than the technical competence of any one member.

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