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Emotion skills training for medical students: a systematic review


Jason M Satterfield PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, 400 Parnassus Avenue, Room A405, San Francisco, California 94143-0320, USA. Tel: 00 1 415 353 2104; Fax: 00 1 415 476 7964; E-mail:


Objective  To identify emotion skills training methods and outcomes using a systematic review of medical student curricula studies.

Methods  We searched the English language literature listed in the PubMed, Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), PsycINFO and Web of Science databases, from 1980 to the present, using a comprehensive list of emotion skills keywords and subsequent hand searches. A total of 828 articles were initially identified. A manual search yielded 161 articles on broadly defined emotion skills educational programmes for medical students. A more stringent review and hand search of reference lists yielded a final 26 articles that included ‘other-directed’ emotion skills (i.e. cognitive and behavioural skills intended to manage the emotions of others), a description of the training programme, and assessment data.

Results  Emotion skills courses varied by total number of contact hours (2–64 hours), session frequency (from 1 session per day to 1 session every 6 months), duration (2 weeks to 2 years), pedagogy, patients targeted and educational outcomes. Student evaluation data were positive. Fifteen of 26 studies used objective emotion skills measures. Only 6/26 studies included a control or comparison condition and 5/26 used a randomised, controlled trial (RCT) design. All 5 RCTs showed positive outcomes with modest improvements in emotion communication skills, empathy, use of emotion words, supportive behaviours and enriched patient understanding.

Conclusions  The heterogeneity of emotion skills curricular studies makes direct comparisons difficult. However, all controlled trials showed positive outcomes, suggesting the importance and effectiveness of ‘other-directed’ emotion skills training. No specific recommendations about curricular amount and frequency, timing and pedagogy can be made.