Background: Communication skills play a key role in many aspects of both medical education and clinical patient care. The objectives of this study were to identify the key components of communication skills from the perspectives of both orthopaedic residents and their program directors and to understand how these skills are currently taught.
Methods: This study utilized a mixed methods design. Quantitative data were collected with use of a thirty-item questionnaire distributed to all Canadian orthopaedic residents. Qualitative data were collected through focus groups with orthopaedic residents and semistructured interviews with orthopaedic program directors.
Results: One hundred and nineteen (37%) of 325 questionnaires were completed, twelve residents participated in two focus groups, and nine of sixteen program directors from across the country were interviewed. Both program directors and residents identified communication skills as being the accurate and appropriate use of language (i.e., content skills), not how the communication was presented (i.e., process skills). Perceived barriers to effective communication included time constraints and the need to adapt to the many personalities and types of people encountered daily in the hospital. Residents rarely have explicit training in communication skills. They rely on communication training implicitly taught through observation of their preceptors and clinical experience interacting with patients, peers, and other health-care professionals.
Conclusions: Orthopaedic residents and program directors focus on content and flexibility within communication skills as well as on the importance of being concise. They value the development of communication skills in the clinical environment through experiential learning and role modeling. Education should focus on developing residents' process skills in communication. Care should be taken to avoid large-group didactic teaching sessions, which are perceived as ineffective.