Use of Unstructured Parent Narratives to Evaluate Medical Student Competencies in Communication and Professionalism

Gilbert C. Liu, Mitchell A. Harris, Stacey A. Keyton, Richard M. Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Objective: Medical education programs across the country are now required to conduct meaningful assessments of trainees' competencies, although uniform standards for conducting these evaluations have yet to be established. In 1999, the Indiana University School of Medicine introduced a comprehensive competency-based undergraduate curriculum. The overall goal of the curriculum is to make medical students' day-to-day experiences of training a source of learning about professionalism, communication, and aspects of medicine beyond factual knowledge. We sought to examine free-text comments by parents of pediatric inpatients as substrate for competency evaluation and feedback for third-year students on their pediatrics rotation. Methods: The study was conducted from June 2001 to February 2004. Parents of hospitalized children completed a short medical student evaluation form that included 2 questions inviting free-text response. We used narrative analysis, a qualitative research technique, to describe both the content and meaning of the parents' responses. Results: We collected 573 evaluations with narrative comments about 412 students. The most common aspect of medical student performance commented on by parents related to communication (53.8%). The next most common narrative comment was some form of affirmation of the student as a health care professional (26.0%). Other themes included establishing context for the comment, perceptions of the health care system, criticizing medical student performance, perceptions of the role of medical students, physical approach to the patient, expression of humility by the student, holistic approach to the patient, physical appearance of the student, superlative description of student, and advocating for the patient. Multiple themes were identified in 232 narrative comments (40.4%). Examples of each theme are provided. Conclusions: Family members of pediatric inpatients are a valuable source of information about medical student performance in at least 2 of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education competency areas (Communication and Professionalism). Themes identified in this study could be used to inform the design of a comprehensive 360-degree student evaluation strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-213
Number of pages7
JournalAmbulatory Pediatrics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2007


  • communication
  • medical student
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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