Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The People Skills Test for Aspiring MDs

Doctors save lives, but they can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients. Medical schools have traditionally done little to screen out such flawed applicants or to train them to behave better, but that is changing.

The nation’s 134 medical schools have long relied almost entirely on college grades and the standardized Medical College Admission Test to sort through more than 42,000 applicants.

One-on-one interviews are offered but provide poor assessments of a candidate’s social skills because they reflect only one person’s view, often focusing on academic issues and elicit practiced responses to canned questions like “Why do you want to become a doctor?”

Now, at least eight medical schools in the United States are shifting to the admissions equivalent of speed-dating: nine brief interviews that force candidates to show they have the social skills to navigate a health care system in which good communication has become critical.

Sample questions include whether giving patients unproven alternative remedies is ethical, whether pediatricians should support parents who want to circumcise their baby boys and whether insurance co-pays for medical visits are appropriate.

The same approach to improving communications skills is helping nurses prepare for their first jobs in hospitals. An avatar-based simulation called "Your Future in Nursing" showcases the people skills scenarios a nurse will face when leaving nursing school and helps them hone skills and get oriented to hospital-based human interaction in a risk-free environment.

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