All uk veterinary schools have recently introduced small group teaching of communication skills for undergraduates. This study evaluates the effectiveness of this approach in improving the ability of students to communicate with clients in clinical situations. Three groups of clinical veterinary students with either no training or different levels of formal training in communication skills were assessed on their ability to communicate with clients at a local charity clinic. The students' communication skills were assessed quantitatively by direct observation during the consultation and by subsequent questioning of the clients. The accuracy of the clients' recall of relevant information about the animal's condition, medication and management was also analysed. The student groups were then compared on the basis of the scores they obtained. There was a significant improvement in the students' communication skills with increasing levels of training (P<0·0001). The group with the highest level of training consistently achieved higher rankings and median scores than the other two. When appraised by clients, this group significantly outranked both the other groups, but there was no difference between the group with no training and the group with an intermediate level of training. The clients' recall of information given in the consultation was more variable; but the group with the highest level of training achieved higher rankings in all the areas of client recall except for the animal's medication.
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