July 11, 2016
1 min read

Communication program significantly changed resident attitude, anxiety about older adults

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Orthopedic surgery residents who participated in a program to enhance communication skills with older adults experienced significant changes in attitude and anxiety levels toward older adults, according to results.

“The take-home message is that physicians must be taught communication skills,” Charles Cornell, MD, clinical director of orthopedic surgery at Hospital for Special Surgery, told Healio.com/Orthopedics. “These are as important as the skills of the physical exam and formulation of the differential diagnosis.”

From 2009 to 2015, 64 third-year orthopedic surgery residents (79% men) participated in a two-part communications program. Of these residents, 25 completed questionnaires about medical knowledge of aging, attitudes toward older adults and personal anxiety about aging.

In the first part of the program, small groups of two to three residents were sensitized to the needs of older adults and taught effective communication skills by a social worker who specialized in aging. A musculoskeletal topic was then presented by residents to a group of 20 to 30 older adults. Finally, residents demonstrated exercises to smaller breakout groups corresponding to the specific musculoskeletal condition presented and fielded questions.

Overall, of the 674 older adults (89% women) who participated in the program, results showed 76% rated the program as excellent or very good and 22% rated the program as good. Researchers also found 96% of older adults either strongly agreed or agreed that residents had demonstrated sensitivity toward them.

Residents showed a significant increase in mean knowledge scores from 57.3 to 72 on aging and older patients, according to results. When looking at residents’ anxiety levels, researchers found a statistically significant change with regard to the enjoyment of talking to older adults, as well as improvement in residents’ attitude toward older or aging adults. – by Casey Tingle



Roberts L, et al. Impact of a communication skills training for orthopaedic surgical residents towards older adults: Exploring knowledge, attitude and anxiety. Presented at: Summer Council of Orthopaedic Residency Directors Conference; June 24-25, 2016; Seattle.

Disclosure: Cornell started the Orthopedic Surgery Resident Communication Skills Training Program at the Hospital for Special Surgery.