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Why We Must Teach Written and Verbal Communication Skills to Medical Students and Residents

Simonson, Jean A. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182854f57
Letters to the Editor

Residency program director, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska;

To the Editor: With physicians becoming more involved in the administration and leadership of health care, learning effective verbal and written communication skills is essential for our medical students and residents. Now, more than ever, education and practice in professional writing and speaking should be included during medical school and residency.

This need recently became clear to me when, in my role as a residency program director, I discovered that my residents had not written any formal communication since their residency or fellowship applications. The residents considered handwritten “thank you” notes, daily e-mail exchanges, and electronic health records as formal written communication. Ironically, the introduction of the electronic health record has been positively received for providing prepopulated text options to expedite the completion of medical notes when, in fact, it may reduce residents’ ability to communicate their thoughts independently.

The need for training in written and verbal communication skills has been widely acknowledged. “Interpersonal skills and communication” is one of the six core competencies of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. In addition, the literature abundantly addresses verbal communications surrounding physician–patient and physician–colleague interactions. In a review more than 25 years ago, only 15 of 101 responding medical schools offered formal writing courses.1 The current status of professional writing instruction through medical school and residency programs is unavailable, but I am sure that additional education is warranted. For example, Varkey et al2 revealed in 2009 that medical students in their study reported minimal or no knowledge in writing proposals. Well-written proposals and business plans can help physicians establish leadership in health care as integral members of the health care team.3

In the meantime, I plan to incorporate professional writing exercises into my residency program, and I encourage other educators to assess their students and residents for similar needs. It is my hope that instruction in formal professional written and verbal communication will become a required component of medical school and residency education in the very near future.

Jean A. Simonson, MD

Residency program director, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska;

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1. Bjork RE, Oye RK. Writing courses in American medical schools. J Med Educ. 1983;58:112–116
2. Varkey P, Peloquin J, Reed D, Lindor K, Harris I. Leadership curriculum in undergraduate medical education: A study of student and faculty perspectives. Med Teach. 2009;31:244–250
3. Cohn KH, Schwartz RW. Business plan writing for physicians. Am J Surg. 2002;184:114–120
© 2013 Association of American Medical Colleges