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Med Educ. 2010 Jul;44(7):662-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03627.x.

Help, I'm losing patient-centredness! Experiences of medical students and their teachers.

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Department of Primary and Interdisciplinary Care, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium.



Despite all educational efforts, the literature shows an ongoing decline in patient-centredness during medical education. This study explores the experiences of medical students and their teachers and supervisors in relation to patient-centredness in order to gain a better understanding of the factors that determine its development.


We conducted 11 focus groups on the subject of learning and teaching about patient-centredness. We then carried out a constant comparative analysis of prior theory and the qualitative data collected in the focus groups using the 'sensitising concepts' provided by the Attitude-Social Influence-Self-Efficacy (ASE) model.


Although students express positive attitudes towards patient-centredness and acquire patient-centred skills during medical education, this study indicates that these are not sufficient to attain the level of competent behaviour needed in today's challenging hospital environment. Clinical clerkships do provide students with ample opportunity to encounter patients and practise patient-centred skills. However, when students lack self-efficacy, when they face barriers (time pressure, tiredness) or when they are surrounded by non-patient-centred role models and are overwhelmed by powerful experiences, they lose their patient-centred focus. The study suggests that communication skills training protects students from negative social influences. Moreover, personal development, including developing the ability to deal with emotions and personal suffering, self-awareness and self-care are important qualities of the central phenomenon of the 'doctor-as-person', which is identified as a missing concept in the ASE model. The student-supervisor relationship is found to be key to learning patient-centredness and has several functions: it facilitates the direct transmission of patient-centred skills, knowledge and attitudes; it provides social support of students' patient-centred behaviour; it provides support of the 'student-as-person'; it mirrors patient-centredness by being student-centred, and, lastly, it addresses supervisor vulnerability. Finally, participants recommend that student-centred education and guidance be offered, self-awareness be fostered and more opportunities to encounter patients be created, including more time in general practice.


Supportive student-doctor relationships, student-centred education and guidance that addresses the needs of the doctor-as-person are central to the development of patient-centredness. Medical education requires patient-centred, self-caring and self-aware role models.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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