To investigate medical students' self-assessments of their communication skills through medical school related to background factors, curriculum design and perceived medical school stress.
Medical students at all year levels attending Norwegian universities in the spring of 2003 were mailed the Oslo Inventory of Self-reported Communication Skills (OSISCS) developed by the authors. Of the total number of students (N=3055), 60% responded. One school had a traditional curriculum, the other three ran integrated models.
Students assessed their instrumental communication skills to increase linearly year by year, while the relational skills showed a curve-linear trajectory reaching the optimum level half-way into the curriculum. Students attending the traditional school reported lower levels of instrumental skills compared to the students from the integrated schools. In relational skills, a similar difference was maintained half-way into the curriculum, but disappeared towards the end. Perceived medical school stress correlated to the self-reported end point levels of the two types of communication skills.
The trajectories of self-reported instrumental and relational skills indicate significant variations in facilitating mechanisms between curricula, cognitive processing and perceived medical school stress.
Self-reported instrumental and relational communication skills develop differently in medical students over the years according to the type of curriculum.
Curricula should be evaluated for improvement implementations.