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Logo of bmcmeduBioMed Centralsearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBMC Medical Education
BMC Med Educ. 2009; 9: 22.
Published online 2009 May 15. doi:  10.1186/1472-6920-9-22
PMCID: PMC2687440

Assessing clinical communication skills in physicians: are the skills context specific or generalizable



Communication skills are essential for physicians to practice Medicine. Evidence for the validity and domain specificity of communication skills in physicians is equivocal and requires further research. This research was conducted to adduce evidence for content and context specificity of communication skills and to assess the usefulness of a generic instrument for assessing communication skills in International Medical Graduates (IMGs).


A psychometric design was used for identifying the reliability and validity of the communication skills instruments used for high-stakes exams for IMG's. Data were collected from 39 IMGs (19 men – 48.7%; 20 women – 51.3%; Mean age = 41 years) assessed at 14 station OSCE and subsequently in supervised clinical practice with several instruments (patient surveys; ITERs; Mini-CEX).


All the instruments had adequate reliability (Cronbach's alpha: .54 – .96). There were significant correlations (r range: 0.37 – 0.70, p < .05) of communication skills assessed by examiner with standardized patients, and of mini-CEX with patient surveys, and ITERs. The intra-item reliability across all cases for the 13 items was low (Cronbach's alpha: .20 – .56). The correlations of communication skills within method (e.g., OSCE or clinical practice) were significant but were non-significant between methods (e.g., OSCE and clinical practice).


The results provide evidence of context specificity of communication skills, as well as convergent and criterion-related validity of communication skills. Both in OSCEs and clinical practice, communication checklists need to be case specific, designed for content validity.

Articles from BMC Medical Education are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central