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Med Teach. 2008;30(9-10):e228-38. doi: 10.1080/01421590802334259.

Critical care recognition, management and communication skills during an emergency medicine clerkship.

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Truman Medical Centre, Kansas City, USA.



Medical students need to learn how to recognize and manage critically ill patients; to communicate in critical situations with patients, families, and the healthcare team; and finally, to integrate technical knowledge with communication skills in caring for these patients. Meeting their needs will help prepare them to demonstrate, as physicians, the ability to synthesize information while simultaneously caring for patients, that the American Medical Association recently characterized as vital.


Responding to these needs, we developed and implemented a curriculum to enable students in a required emergency medicine clerkship to recognize, manage, and simultaneously communicate with critically ill patients.


The curriculum consisted of lectures and exercises on caring for the critically ill including: an introduction to the systematic approach; an interactive lecture on comprehensive communication; observation and discussion of real patients in the emergency department; participation in a single standardized patient encounter while peers and a faculty member observed them; assessment of students' own videotaped performance of the examination by using critical care and communication/interpersonal skills checklists; and receipt of private feedback based on the checklists from the faculty and the standardized patient. Students evaluated the curriculum at the end of the clerkship.


Complete performance data for 46 students and curriculum evaluation data from 42 students were available. According to faculty assessment, students as a group performed 79.6% (SD 0.15) of the critical care and 70.9% (SD 11.5%) of the communication skills. Students most often demonstrated Basic Interpersonal Skills (97.9%, SD 0.056) and least often demonstrated Empathy skills (41.7%, SD 0.235). Students rated the curriculum positively.


It is feasible to integrate the teaching of communication skills with the recognition and management of critically ill patients. The next step will be to revise the curriculum to address student deficiencies and to evaluate its effectiveness more rigorously.

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