Improving medical student intensive care unit communication skills: A novel educational initiative using standardized family members

Scott Lorin, Lisa Rho, Juan P. Wisnivesky, David M. Nierman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To determine whether intensive care unit (ICU) communication skills of fourth-year medical students could be improved by an educational intervention using a standardized family member. DESIGN: Prospective study conducted from August 2003 to May 2004. SETTING: Tertiary care university teaching hospital. PARTICIPANTS: All fourth-year students were eligible to participate during their mandatory four-week critical care medicine clerkship. INTERVENTIONS: The educational intervention focused on the initial meeting with the family member of an ICU patient and included formal teaching of a communication framework followed by a practice session with an actor playing the role of a standardized family member of a fictional patient. At the beginning of the critical care medicine rotation, the intervention group received the educational session, whereas students in the control group did not. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: At the end of each critical care medicine rotation, all students interacted with a different standardized family member portraying a different fictional scenario. Sessions were videotaped and were scored by an investigator blinded to treatment assignment using a standardized grading tool across four domains: a) introduction; b) gathering information; c) imparting information; and d) setting goals and expectations. A total of 106 (97% of eligible) medical students agreed to participate in the study. The total mean score as well as the scores for the gathering information, imparting information, setting goals, and expectations domains for the intervention group were significantly higher than for the control group (p < .01). CONCLUSIONS: The communication skills of fourth-year medical students can be improved by teaching and then practicing a framework for an initial ICU communication episode with a standardized family member.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2386-2391
Number of pages6
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Communication skills
  • Critical care
  • Intensive care unit
  • Medical education
  • Medical students
  • Standardized patient
  • Teaching


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