Debra Nestel and Tanya Tierney, the authors of this article, state that role-play is widely used as an educational method for learning about communication in medical education. Despite the wide use of role-play as a teaching method, there is little published evidence about its effectiveness. This paper explores students' experiences in role-play with the intent of producing guidelines for maximizing the benefits of this learning method.
As part of their communication class, first-year undergraduate medical students participated in a role-play session. Both before and after the session, students were asked to complete questionnaires that asked about their experiences with role-play. Immediately following the role-playing exercise, the students answered similar questions in relation to the role-play activity they had just completed. Their answers were then analyzed.
284 students completed the questionnaires. The results indicated that 63 (22.2%) had prior unhelpful experiences with role-play. However, most students (274; 96.5%) found this experience helpful. The students reported that this activity was helpful because it produced opportunities for observation, rehearsal and discussion, realistic roles and alignment of roles with other aspects of the curriculum. The students also reported that some of the unhelpful aspects of the exercise were factors that contributed to a lack of realism.
This study concluded that role-play was valued by students and that it helped them acquire better communication skills. Finally, the authors' proposed guidelines for effective role-play include adequate preparation, alignment of roles and tasks with level of practice, structured feedback guidelines, and acknowledgment of the importance of social interactions for learning.