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Keywords:

  • mental illness;
  • communication skills;
  • medical education

Persons with major mental illness often have chronic diseases and poor physical health. Therefore, all practicing physicians should learn about communicating effectively with these patients. Few efforts to teach medical students communication skills have specifically targeted patients with major mental illness. Indeed, most of the limited literature on this topic is decades old, predating significant scientific advances in cognitive neuroscience and psychiatric therapeutics and changes in social policies regarding major mental illness. To gather preliminary insight into training needs, we interviewed 13 final-year students from 2 Boston medical schools. Students' observations coalesced around 4 themes: fears and anxieties about interacting with persons with major mental illness; residents “protecting” students from patients with major mental illness; lack of clinical maturity; and barriers to learning during psychiatry rotations. Educational researchers must explore ways to better prepare young physicians to communicate effectively with patients with major mental illness.