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Med Educ. 2009 Mar;43(3):254-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03278.x.

Medical students' perceptions of identity in communication skills training: a qualitative study.

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Centre for the Study of Professions, Oslo University College, Oslo, Norway.



Communication skills training in undergraduate medical education is considered to play an important role in medical students' formation of their professional identity. This qualitative study explores Year 1 students' perceptions of their identities when practising communication skills with real patients.


A total of 23 individual semi-structured interviews and two focus group discussions were conducted with 10 students during their first year of communication skills training. All interviews and discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed for emergent themes relating to identity.


Students struggled to communicate professionally with patients because of a lack of clinical knowledge and skills. Consequently, students enacted other identities, yet patients perceived them differently, causing conversational ambiguities.


Students' perceptions challenge educational goals, suggesting that there is limited potential for the formation of professional identity through early training. Teacher-doctors must acknowledge how students' low levels of clinical competence and patients' behaviour complicate students' identity formation.

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