This review is based on the findings of the Southampton Clinical Skills Project, which was a needs assessment and feasibility study to consider the development of a multiprofessional Clinical Skills Resource at Southampton. The project spanned a period of 18 months and used a range of methods of data collection, including visits to 12 clinical skills facilities in the UK.
Most existing clinical skills centres have developed in response to changing healthcare policy, curricular initiatives and increasing emphasis on the quality of assessments and competencies. There is also increasing recognition that clinicians are no longer able to teach effectively all skills to students in the traditional ways, and that clinical skills training and assessment, particularly for undergraduates, is an area of deficiency.
The potential scope of clinical skills centres is broad and encompasses not only clinical and communication skills but medical informatics, computer assisted learning, multiprofessional learning and assessment. Skills centres can also promote self directed and lifelong learning methods. The planning of skills centres involves a variety of stakeholders and users, including undergraduates, postgraduates, acute and community Trusts, Postgraduate Deans and medical schools. A successful skills centre needs to be flexible in its design, integral to the curriculum and relevant to educational and training requirements. This requires planning, organization and resources. Different organizational models can be used, depending on local factors.
The management of skills centres involves consideration of issues such as security, safety, supervision of learners and staff development, informed by a network of experts and everyday users. The development of skills centres should include ongoing educational evaluation of outcomes and educational research.
The use of a clinical skills centre has potential benefits for staff and students, including the provision of a safe environment in which to learn and practise skills before using them in the real clinical setting. This can reduce anxiety in students and protect patients from novice practice. Clinical skills centres provide a setting for structured learning with feedback as well as assessment of competence. The limitations of a skills centre are that it can only provide simulated experiences which are an adjunct to, but can never replace real clinical experience.