Future doctors focus on communication

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

A tongue-tying ordeal is how many teenagers would describe a chat with their family doctor.

That's why a group of five undergraduates in the Faculty of Medicine created a workshop in doctor-patient communication aimed at adolescents.

"We want to help teenagers develop an independent relationship with their doctors," says third-year student Vu Truong. "Also, if we want to get communication working with adults, we need to start at the grassroots."

The group recently presented the one-hour workshop to 25 students at Vancouver's York House School. Topics included basic communication skills, confidentiality and what subjects were appropriate for discussion with the family doctor.

The medical students presented a skit that modelled both effective and ineffective communication and played both doctor and patient roles. Students then had the opportunity to break into smaller groups to work on communication skills through mini role-play scenarios.

"I've found students often respond negatively when I suggest they talk to their family doctor about a problem," says Jean McLagan, the school counsellor at York House who helped organize the presentation. "I hope that students will be more pro-active in dealing with their own health issues as a result of this workshop."

The workshop's creators are volunteers in the Informed Shared Decision Making (ISDM) project. Based in UBC's Office of the Co-ordinator of Health Sciences, the project aims to train physicians in effective ways to help patients take an informed and collaborative role in decisions about their medical care.

"We're hoping this workshop can be widely used in the community," says Pathology Prof. William Godolphin, who heads ISDM. "We want the public to be confident in their ability to talk to their doctor -- better informed patients have better health outcomes."

ISDM began in September 1996. The secondary school education portion of the project is funded by the Hamber Foundation.