Abstract Title
Tailored education in communication skills after early assessment Experiences of the Pharmacy bachelor program at Utrecht University


Majanne Wolters
Anita van Oyen
Lyda Blom


2JJ Communication


Utrecht University - Faculty of Science Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences



At Utrecht University pharmacy students are trained in communication skills to prepare them for their role as health care provider.  Yearly, at least 200 students enter the bachelor and  have to be educated and assessed on their communication competences, whereas limited resources are present.

Because students differ in their communication competences,  they  have different needs for training.  [1]  Teaching staff at the pharmacy department of Utrecht University therefore developed the so called ’20-80 strategy’.

figure 1

Figure 1. Overview of the educational program on oral communication skills of the pharmacy bachelor at Utrecht University

20-80 strategy

Students  are assessed on their communication skills in year  one (level 1) and three  (level 2) after having received limited training (total: 3 hours). (photo 1)  Besides passing or failing the assessment, the outcome of the level 1 assessment can also be ‘conditional pass’: the student must attend a specific workshop as determined by the assessor. (figure 1) Using  this strategy students’ deficiencies in communication skills are detected early.

photograph 1

Photograph 1. Assessment of a students communication skills (interacting with a simulation patient)

Students who fail to pass the assessment are obliged to reflect on the assessment and write a plan how they are going to improve their competences. The students are offered workshops as  voluntary tailored education (so called skills lab) (table 1) thus preparing them for re-assessment. Workshops are given in groups of 1- 12 students.  It is students own responsibility how and when they prepare themselves for the re-assessment.

Summary of Work

Does this optional tailored education increase students’ success rates in the re-examination?

The results of the assessments and first and second re-assessments (level 1 and 2) of student cohorts starting from 2008 until 2012 were collected and analyzed. Also the number of participants of the different workshops were collected for these cohorts.

The success and fail rates for level 1 and 2 at the first and second re-assessment of both workshops-attenders and non-attenders were compared for the period of 2009 until 2013 using the chi-square test.



Summary of Results

Students could attend six different workshops, 'asking questions' and 'active listening' were most frequently attended.  (table 1)

Table 1. Overview of workshops and number of participants (period sept 2009 - jun 2013)

table 1

Level 1 assessment and first re-assessment

From student cohorts from 2008 until 2012,  698 students participated and 298 students failed  (43%) in the year 1 assessment. In the first re-assessment  (n=193) of level 1, workshop-attenders (n=58) were significantly more successful than non-attenders (n=135) in passing the assessment (including conditionally passed):  86% versus  71% (Chi-square, p<.05). (table 2)


Table 2. Results of level 1 and 2 assessment (communication skills pharmacy bachelor Utrecht University) and the effect of attending tailored education on success rate (student cohorts starting from 2008 - 2012)

table 2

Level 2 assessment and first re-assessment

Of these student cohorts 478 students participated in the level 2 assessment of whom 147 failed (31%). There is no significant difference in the success rates between attenders and non-attenders who participate in the level 2 assessment for the first time.

For the first re-assessment (n= 144) of level 2 , of the workshop-attenders (n=29) 83% was  successful versus 65% of the non- attenders (n=115). This is almost significant (Chi-square, p=0,07).

For the second re-assessments (level 1 and 2) there was no significant difference between attenders and non-attenders. (table 2)


  • Early assessment of students’ communication skills  can be used to determine students’ needs for additional education and to provide tailored education.
  • This strategy seems to contribute to students’ success rates in re-assessment in the first re-assessment.
  • Attending a workshop prior to the level 2 assessment doesn’t influence the success rate. This could be due to the fact that in the level 2 assessment more aspects are assessed then on level 1.
  • Further research needs to be done to determine the effectiveness of this strategy.
Take-home Messages

Offering tailored education after early assessment is efficient and effective.


[1] Blom Lyda, Wolters Majanne, et al., Pharmaceutical education in patient counseling: 20 hours spread over 6 years?, Patient Education and Counseling 83 (2011): 465-471.

Summary of Work

For thr chi-square test the students who conditionally passed the (re-)assessment are considered as passed, since they don't have to be assessed again.

The data of students who stopped their pharmacy bachelor, aren't processed in the results.

Because of the low number of student the third and later re-assessments are not included.

Summary of Results
Take-home Messages
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