Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Role-Play For Medical Students Learning About Communication: Guidlines For Maximising Benefits

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.

Source: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-6920-7-3.pdf


  1. One thing that seemed slightly out of place to me when I was reading through this summary was that the article itself says that "first year undergraduate medical students participated in a role-play session as part of their communication programme". The "first year undergraduate medical student" part did not seem to make sense to me in the American educational context.

    Upon further investigation, it looks like this article was published in the UK and my question is do you think these results would be different among a US population?

    Furthermore, I'm not familiar with how UK medical schools work, but it seems like these are essentially first year undergrads (~18 yr. olds), so do you think the results would be different with an older medical student population (~23 yr. olds)?

  2. In response to JBrown's comments:
    I also was wondering if the level of maturity would contribute to the role-playing exercise. If the role-playing is being used as an 'introduction' to medical school, then it would seem far less effective than if students had more knowledge, experience, and understanding of their responsibilities.

    Using role-playing in this sense seems more of an ice breaker than it does an effective tool for learning or decision making.

  3. How much did the author of this study spend on explaining why the 63 students found it an unhelpful experience? Did they interview these subject one on one? It would be interesting to see why they did not benefit from it.