"Should I prioritize medical problem solving or attentive listening?": The dilemmas and challenges that medical students experience when learning to conduct consultations

Leen Aper*, Wemke Veldhuijzen, Tim Dornan, Monica van de Ridderd, Sebastiaan Koole, Anselme Derese, Jan Reniers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: Communication skills can be trained alongside clinical reasoning, history taking or clinical examination skills. This is advocated as a solution to the low transfer of communication skills. Still, students have to integrate the knowledge/skills acquired during different curriculum parts in patient consultations at some point. How do medical students experience these integrated consultations within a simulated environment and in real practice when dealing with responsibility? Methods: Six focus groups were conducted with (pre-)/clerkship students. Results: Students were motivated to practice integrated consultations with simulated patients and felt like 'real physicians'. However, their focus on medical problem solving drew attention away from improving their communication skills. Responsibility for real patients triggered students' identity development. This identity formation guided the development of an own consultation style, a process that was hampered by conflicting demands of role models. Conclusion: Practicing complete consultations results in the dilemma of prioritizing medical problem solving above attention for patient communication. Integrated consultation training advances this dilemma to the pre-clerkship period. During clerkships this dilemma is heightened because real patients trigger empathy and responsibility, which invites students to define their role as doctor. Practice implications: When training integrated consultations, educators should pay attention to students' learning priorities and support the development of students' professional identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-84
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Communication skills
  • Conducting consultations
  • Undergraduate medical students
  • Identity development

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