n South African Psychiatry Review - The conceptualisation of "soft skills" among medical students before and after curriculum reform : original article

Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1811-7805



<br><I>Objective:</I> This paper reports on the conceptualisation of "soft skills" as part of a study carried out among two groups of undergraduate medical students before and after curriculum reform at the School of Medicine of the University of Pretoria. Congruent with a call from the World Psychiatric Association, the curriculum reform that was undertaken aimed, inter alia, to place more emphasis on soft skills, including professional interpersonal and social skills, communication skills, and professional and ethical attitudes. <br><I>Methods:</I> Qualitative methods were used to arrive at a descriptive comparison of the conceptualisation of soft skills by final-year medical students of the traditional curriculum with those of final-year students who had followed the reformed curriculum. A purposive-theoretical sampling method was followed; 42 students from the traditional curriculum and 49 from the reformed curriculum were sampled. Data were collected from seven focus groups, 16 individual interviews, and 23 essays (autobiographical sketches). <br><I>Results:</I> Both groups of students revealed conceptualisations of soft skills that were similar in kind. The themes they pinpointed were the doctor-patient relationship; relationships with other professionals; being a good listener; explaining things to patients; using good communication skills; establishing rapport with patients from different cultural backgrounds; having a professionally correct attitude; being really interested in patients' well being; having empathy; coping with patients, managing difficult situations, and being ethical and professional. However, the traditional curriculum students offered fewer examples and described fewer experiences that exemplified their soft skills. Students following the reformed curriculum gave rich accounts of their conceptualisation in terms of their own experiences and practical examples of how soft skills had been or could be used, particularly in difficult interpersonal situations. Moreover, they came up with helpful ways of dealing with difficult situations, which surpassed the suggestions offered by the students following the traditional curriculum. <br><I>Conclusion:</I> The educational and training efforts of the reformed curriculum are associated with an adeptness on the part of the students at applying soft skills to the demands of difficult clinical situations.

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