s training in small groups (up to 7 participants). The teaching method was learner-centred, skill-focused, and practice-oriented. The communication skills training offered some theoretical information presenting adequate communication skills. In the other sessions, residents were invited to practice the principles discussed in the theoretical sessions through role-plays with immediate feedback offered by experienced facilitators. This program has been described in details elsewhere [22].

2.4. Assessment of Communication Skills Learning

Residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills was assessed in an audiotaped breaking bad news simulated consultation. Simulated consultations have been described as a valid method to study communication style [23]. It implied a task of breaking a breast cancer diagnosis to an actress playing a patient. The actress was trained to carefully maintain the same behaviors and high emotional level over the entire study. She was in structed to express concerns about the medical and marital consequences of the disease. Before the simulated consultation, residents had enough time to complete some questionnaires and to learn the case description. They were then introduced to the actress and told that, after 20 minutes, the consultation would be put to an end. A clock was available for time management, and the recording room was made to look as realistic as possible. After the simulated consultation, physicians had to complete questionnaires. The audiotapes of the simulated consultations were transcripted. Transcripts were analyzed by the LaComm software. LaComm is a French communication content analysis software. This software uses a word count strategy based on categories of words like Protan [24] and a word combination strategy like the General Inquirer [25]. The aim of this soft ware is to analyze, utterance by utterance, verbal communication used (in medicine in general and in oncology in particular) by identifying utterance types and contents. For this study, only the types of utterances were used. Types of residents’ utterances were analyzed with the dictionaries included in the LaComm. Dictionaries are composed of words, word stems or expressions and were built on the basis of empirical knowledge derived from actual and simulated patient consultations performed by physicians [26]. The categories of dictionaries were adapted from the categories of the Cancer Research Campaign Workshop Evaluation Manual [27] and redefined according to the three-function approach of the medical interview [28] by a panel of experts. Utterances were categorized in three main types: assessment, sup port, and the information. This study focused on assessment and support types of utterances (See Table 1). The content analysis software has been shown to be effective in measuring improved communication skills [29,30]. It allows analyses

Figure 1. Predictors and correlate of residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills.

Table 1. Description of the assessment and support types of utterances.

of verbal communications which reflect important aspects of medical interactions. It is important to underline that this software is only useful to assess training effects and is not designed for teaching.

2.5. Assessment of Residents’ Characteristics

Residents’ socio-demographic characteristics were assessed with a socio-demographic questionnaire (age and gender). Residents’ professional characteristics were assessed with a socio-professional questionnaire (medical speciality, oncology work experience in years) and a Professional Career questionnaire specifically developed for this study. Residents’ psychological characteristics were assessed with the following questionnaires: General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) [31], Rotter InternalExternal Scale [32], Psychological State of Stress Measure (PSSM) [33], State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Trait form Yb (STAI-Yb) [34], Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) [35], Ways of Coping Checklist (WCC) [36] and three questionnaires specifically developed for this study (Motivation to learn, Valence, Self-Efficacy).

Professional Career. This is a 8-item self-reported instrument adapted from Colquitt et al. [21] scored on a 10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS) ranged from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely). Items measured residents’ implication in work, organisational engagement, implication in career, exploration of the career, and planning of the career.

GHQ-28 [31]. This validated French-translated 28- item questionnaire assesses short-term changes in mental health.

Rotter Internal-External Scale [32]. This validated French-translated 30-item questionnaire measures residents’ locus of control (LOC), referring to their perceived ability to influence events in their own life.

PSSM [33]. This validated French instrument evaluates the subjective experience of feeling stressed over the last 48 hours.

STAI-Yb [34]. This 20-item questionnaire measures relatively stable individual differences in anxiety processes. The French-language version has been validated.

MBI [35]. This validated French-translated 22-item questionnaire assesses residents’ level of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment).

WCC [36]. This validated French-translated 27-item scale assessed: problem-focused coping aiming at solving the problem that faces the person, emotion-focused coping involving cognitive processes directed at lessening emotional distress and social support-focused coping aiming at finding others’ support.

Motivation to learn. This is a 1-item self-reported instrument adapted from Colquitt et al. [21] (“At present and in the context of this training, I’m motivated to learn to better communicate in an consultation with a cancer patient”) scored on a 10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS) ranged from 0 (moderately motivated) to 10 (extremely motivated).

Valence. This 3-item questionnaire adapted from Colquitt et al. [21] assessed the value according by residents to effective communication skills during consultations on a 10 cm visual analogue scale (VAS). The internal reliability was high (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.80).

Self-efficacy. This 13-item scale adapted from Parle et al. [37] assesses residents’ perception of their own ability to communicate and to manage stress in consultation with a cancer patient. A factorial analysis has lead to 4 factors: elicitation of concerns (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.79), detection of distress (r = 0.62), complex communication skills such as breaking bad news (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.61), and stress management (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.76).

2.6. Assessment of Contextual Characteristics

Contextual characteristics were assessed with the Job Stress Survey (JSS) [38]. This validated French-translated 30-item questionnaire assesses the perceived intensity and frequency of occurrence of job-related stressor events that are likely to affect the psychological wellbeing of employees who have been exposed to them during the preceding 6 months. Summing the ratings of each item provides an overall Job Stress Index.

2.7. Statistical Analysis

Residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills were computed through the difference between residents’ skills at baseline and after training. Stepwise Multiple Regression Analysis was computed to examine predictors and correlate of residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills. Two models have been tested respectively for assessment skills and supportive skills. A preliminary analysis was used to identify predictors and correlates among residents’ characteristics, contextual characteristics, pre-training communication skills and training attendance (Pearson’s correlations, t-tests for independent sample or one-way ANOVA as appropriate). Variables were entered in the regression analyses if they satisfied the inclusion criterions (i.e., p < 0.05). The analyses were performed with SPSS for windows, version 13.0 [39].

3. Results

3.1. Subjects

One-hundred and thirteen residents registered for the study between 2002 and 2006 and 61 followed the training program in the training group. Residents were from the three French-speaking universities in the country and worked in several hospitals and clinics at the time of the study. Barriers to participation included mainly personal and institutional reasons, time limitations, training duration and time-consuming assessment procedures. Five participants were excluded because they did not complete assessment procedure 8 months later. The final sample for this study included fifty-six residents. Comparison of included and excluded residents showed no statistically significant differences for gender, age or number of years of practice.

As shown in Table 2, residents were a mean of 28 years old (SD = 3 years), 70% were female. Nine percent were in oncology (oncology, haematology and radio therapy), 30% in gynaecology and 61% in other speciali ties (e.g. surgery, gastroenterology). They had a mean of 2 years of oncology work experience (SD = 2.5 years). They took part on average to 15 hours of training (SD = 8.3).

3.2. Residents Learning of Assessment and Supportive skills

On average, there was a difference of 1.3 (SD = 3.1, with a minimum of −4, a maximum of 12) between residents’ assessment skills before and after training. There was a difference of 3 (SD = 16.3, with a minimum of −38, a maximum of 40) between residents’ supportive skills before and after training.

3.3. Variables Related to Residents’ Learning of Assessment and Supportive Skills: Univariate Analysis

Table 2 shows variables related to learning of assessment and supportive skills. Concerning the learning of assessment skills, five psychological characteristics were significantly associated: depersonalization (p = 0.040), motivation to learn (p = 0.023), self-efficacy beliefs as regard detection of patient distress (p < 0.001), emotional-focused coping (p = 0.028), and social support-focused coping (p = 0.017). Moreover, pre-training assessment skills (p = 0.031) and training attendance (p = 0.027) were significantly associated.

Concerning the learning of supportive skills, one sociodemographic characteristic (age (p = 0.047)), one professional characteristic (oncology work experience (p = 0.007)), and one psychological characteristic (self-efficacy beliefs as regard detection of patient distress (p = 0.045)) were significantly associated. Moreover, pretraining supportive skills (p < 0.001) and training attendance (p = 0.005) were also significantly associated.

3.4. Variables Related to Residents’ Learning of Assessment and Supportive Skills: Multiple Regression Analysis

Table 3 shows variables predicting or being associated with residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills. Given that all physicians were young, we have only entered “work experience” and not “age” in the re gression model. Characteristics entered into the regression model explained 49% of the variance in residents’ learning of assessment skills and 37% of the variance in residents’ learning of supportive skills. Results showed negative associations between residents’ learning of as sessment skills and depersonalization (p = 0.037), selfefficacy beliefs as regard detection of patient distress (p < 0.001), emotional-focused coping (p = 0.001), and pre-training assessment skills (p = 0.012), and a positive association with social support-focused coping (p = 0.001). Results showed negative associations between residents’ learning of supportive skills and oncology work experience (p = 0.010) and pre-training supportive skills (p = 0.001) and a positive association with training attendance (p = 0.007).

Table 2. Variables related to residents’ learning of assessment and supportive skills1 (n = 56).

4. Discussion

This study aims to determine variables (among residents’ characteristics, contextual characteristics, pre-training skills and training attendance), which predict or are associated with the learning of assessment and supportive skills following a communication skills training. First, our results show that low levels of both pre-training assessment and supportive skills predict a better learning of these respective skills.

Second, our results show that predictors and correlates of assessment and supportive skills learning are different. Residents’ learning of assessment skills is neither related to their socio-demographic, nor to their professional characteristics, nor to the contextual characteristics. Residents’ learning of assessment skills is meanwhile predicted by some psychological characteristics. First, certain types of residents’ copings (low level of emo-

Table 3. Variables related to residents’ learning1 of assessment and supportive skills (Stepwise Multiple Regression Analysis) (n = 56).

tional-focused coping and high level of social supportfocused coping) predict better assessment skills learning. On the one hand, emotional-focused coping (i.e. “I have wished that the situation disappears”) predicts a poorer learning of assessment skills. Residents who are using this coping may be less motivated to learn assessment skills, which do not match with their usual coping tending to avoid to explore patients concerns. On the other hand, social support-focused coping (i.e. “I have sought professional’s help and I did what this professional has recommended”) referring to a tendency to find solutions to problems by seeking other’s help predicts a better learning of assessment skills. Residents may be sensitive to patients support needs because they are using themselves social support-focused coping to deal with stressors. Residents may be therefore more motivated to learn assessment skills.

Residents’ belief about their own competence—low level of self-efficacy belief—as regard detection of patients’ distress predicts also better assessment skills learning. Residents who belief to be already competent in the detection of patients’ distress may be less motivated to learn assessment skills that aim to detect patients concerns. Residents’ negative attitude towards patients— high level of depersonalization—predicts lower assessment skills learning. This may be explained by the fact that residents who are not prone to personalize their relationship with patients (i.e. “I don’t really care what happens to my patients”) may be less motivated to learn assessment skills.

Factors associated with learning of supportive skills are different. Residents’ learning of supportive skills is not related to the psychological characteristics collected in this study. Our results show that supportive skill learning is predicted by a lower professional experience and is associated with a higher training attendance rate. The fact that a low professional experience predicts more supportive skills learning may be explained by the fact that residents with limited work experience have less established ways to support their patients and may be motivated to learn skills. Moreover, the result concerning the training attendance rate may be explained by the fact that supportive skills are less easy to learn than assessment skills and by the fact that supportive skills are usually learned after assessment skills.

Our study did not confirm the association between physicians’ locus of control and communication skills learning reported by Libert et al. [20]. Two reasons may explain this difference. First, Libert et al. study included mainly senior oncologists, while our population included junior residents. Second, their study compared physicians whose Rotter I-E scores belonged to the lower third of the distribution (physicians with an “internal” LOC) with physicians whose Rotter I-E scores belonged to the upper third of the distribution (physicians with an “external” LOC), while our study considered the whole distribution of physicians LOC’ scores.

Future training programs designed to improve residents’ assessment and supportive skills may consider these different predictors and correlates. Concerning assessment skills, trainers need to be aware that the learning of these skills depends on physicians’ motivation and that barriers that decrease motivation should be early detected and dealt with appropriately (i.e. low level of self-efficacy, emotional-focused coping). Concerning supportive skills, trainers need to be aware that these skills are difficult to learn and to teach. An appropriate learning of this type of skills may need specific modules. The result that supportive skills are difficult to learn may be explained by the fact that supportive skills include verbal and non-verbal skills (i.e. acknowledgement of a given and fully understood difficulty with an appropriate tone of the voice), while assessment skills include mainly verbal skills (i.e. ask questions).

To conclude, this study shows that predictors of assessment and supportive skills’ learning are quite different. While residents’ assessment skills’ learning is only predicted by residents’ psychological characteristics (copings, self-efficacy and depersonalisation), residents’ supportive skills’ learning is only predicted by their level of work experience and associated with the number of hours of their training attendance. Predictors and correlates are useful to be studied. They may be helpful to increase training efficacy.

5. Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank all the residents who participated in the study.


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