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Communication skills

Good communication skills are an essential component of the doctor-patient relationship.

As outlined in Good Medical Practice (GMC, 2006) doctors need to communicate effectively with colleagues within and outside the healthcare team in order to ensure continuity of care and effective treatment for patients. Good communication is also an essential element in the other non-clinical areas.

Poor communication between professional staff has been identified by the Royal College of Physicians as an underlying factor for failed communication with patients and communication difficulties between doctors and their managers, are a leading cause of disciplinary problems.

In 2003, a BMA survey showed that ’poor communication’ was identified as a significant factor in over a quarter of disciplinary action cases taken by employers against BMA members.

Communication skills are now an integral part of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

There are also a range of communication skills courses outwith of the curricula that cover different areas and types of communication. The focus of these courses generally tends to be on the communication between doctors and their patients.


Courses and events

Non-clinical masterclasses

Our one day non-clinical masterclasses focus on enhancing your confidence and practical skills through face-to-face learning. Taught by experienced medical careers consultants, these courses focus on a range of topics from effective communication to time management, leadership and management and more.

Find out more about these masterclasses


BMJ Learning

BMJ Learning includes a wide range of modules and events focusing on non-clinical skills to assist doctors in their continuing professional development (CPD). This includes the following communication skills modules:

Explore BMJ Learning


BMJ Careers

BMJ Careers resources include:

  • BMJ Career Fair takes place each year in October in London. Part of the seminar programme addresses non-clinical skills for doctors.
  • Careers Centre allows you to search medical career articles by topic including personal experiences, working in different specialties, reviews of popular courses and tips on acquisition of generic and non-clinical skills.
  • Classifieds and Notices include a section dedicated to course, seminar and conference advertisements, many of which offer training in the skills highlighted in this resource.

 Find out more about BMJ Careers


Other organisations offering training in communication skills

Medical Defence Union (MDU)
The MDU offers patient and colleague communication skills training for doctors workshops. The workshops are interactive and feature small group role-play sessions.

Postgraduate deaneries
Some of the postgraduate deaneries offer management courses for doctors. For more information please contact your Postgraduate Deanery.

NHS Education for Scotland - Making communication even better
A learning resource for health, education, social work and voluntary sector staff who want to know and understand how to improve their own communication.


Further reading

Communication skills education for doctors: an update (2004)
This is an update of the 2003 report and aims to raise awareness among the medical profession of the significant issues involved in communication skills training at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The paper considers the concerns expressed about poor communication skills training in medicine and how such training for the medical profession can be improved.

Guide to effective communication - non-discriminatory language (2006)
This guidance, produced by the BMA Equal Opportunities Committee, aims to promote good practice in using language in an inclusive way, which shows respect for, and sensitivity towards, all members of the community. This guidance should be applied to all mediums of communication, including committee papers, documents, letters, emails and the web.