A private dental practice, in order to be viable, requires patients who are loyal, dentally educated, and, as a result, prepared to invest in comprehensive dentistry. However, a vital, yet often underestimated prerequisite for creating such a patient, is the dentist’s ability to communicate effectively with the patient. The aim of this study was to develop, implement and evaluate a curriculum in relational communication skills for third year dental students. The methodology employed during the study enhanced a student-centered, problem-oriented learning approach by means of an experiential learning strategy complemented by a didactic teaching strategy (ATF-strategy). The ATF-teaching strategy was designed in a pre- and post-training cycle: (i) Affectively stimulate students: video recordings and evaluation of third year dental students’ base line relational communication skills with a standardised patient (SP); (ii) Presenting the theory: developing students’ relational communication skills by means of a didactic lecture and role playing a structured interview with peers; (iii) Opportunity to functionalise the skills: role playing a structured interview with a SP and evaluation of students’ newly developed relational communication skills by means of an assessment rubric and video recordings and -feedback. The subjects in the study were third year dental students (n = 67). The following instruments were employed: a case study of a clinical scenario was used to role-play an interview with a SP. The SP used a “rubric”, representing the six dimensions of the required relational communication skills, as an assessment instrument to provide descriptive feedback to each student. The “dentist’s” feedback was a questionnaire completed by each student about his/her experience as “dentist” during the interview with the SP. The “patient’s” feedback was a questionnaire completed by the SP about his/her experience as “patient” during the interview. A study guide, describing the evidence behind relational communication skills training, as well as the relational communication skills required, was developed and a copy was issued to each student. Quantitative and qualitative results were obtained. (i) Quantitative results: both male and female students, as well as the class as a whole, scored significantly higher during training cycle 2 compared to training cycle 1 (p < 0.0001) for five of the six dimensions of the rubric (except Dimension: “Opening the interview”). This confirms the effectiveness of the teaching strategy to develop third year dental students’ relational communication skills. Both male and female students rated the appropriateness of the teaching methods employed during the study, rather highly (4.18 and 4.26 on a five-point Likert scale, respectively); (ii) Qualitative results: the “dentists’” feedback showed that by role-playing a structured interview, students’ confidence to interact in a relaxed way with the “patient” was enhanced. Furthermore, the important roles of trust, empathy and active listening in establishing a meaningful relationship with a patient, were emphasised by most of the students. It is concluded that the ATF-teaching strategy employed for teaching third year dental students relational communication skills, proved to be an effective strategy and was perceived by the students as a valuable and appropriate strategy.
Thesis (PhD Dentistry)--University of Pretoria, 2007.