The use of simulated patients in dietetic training

An observational study investigating the impact of simulated patients in teaching communication skills in preclinical dietetic students

Gibson and Davidson JHND Early View

Background

Simulated patients (SPs) are often used in dietetics for the teaching and assessment of communication skills. The present study aimed to determine the impact of a SP encounter on communication skills in undergraduate preclinical dietetic students in the context of the resources required for delivering this educational strategy.

Methods

This observational study collected assessment data from four cohorts of third-year dietetic students to examine the effect of participation in SP-embedded Objective Structured Clinical Exams. Students completed two SP interviews, 2 weeks apart, and communication skills were measured on both occasions. A subgroup of students received a video of their SP encounter. Differences between the two SP interview scores were compared to assess the impact of the SP encounter on communication skills. The required staff and resources were described.

Results

Data were collected involving 215 students. Out of 30 marks, there was a modest mean (SD) improvement in communication skills from the first to the second SP interview of 2.5 (4.2) (P < 0.01). There was an association between student ability and improvement in communication skills, with failing students demonstrating the greatest improvement between SP encounters. There were no observed benefits for the subset of students who received videos.

Conclusions

Providing repeat SP interview opportunities results in only modest improvement in communication skills for most students. The use of SPs needs to be considered in context of the substantial costs and resources involved and tailored to student ability.

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