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Emergency telephone consultations: a new course for medical students


  • Funding: None.

  • Conflict of interest: None.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

Corresponding author’s contact details: Mireille Schaufelberger, Berner Institut für Hausarztmedizin BIHAM, Murtenstrasse 11, 3010 Bern, Switzerland. E-mail:


Background:  Using the telephone for consultations is now common practice. Although there is a clear need for specific training for telephone consultations, it is uncommon for it to be taught in medical school.

Methods:  A practical course on emergency telephone consultations (ECTs) was designed for the medical degree course at the University of Bern Medical School. During the module, each of the volunteer fifth-year medical students had to perform two simulated telephone consultations. Medical students in their first year of medical school acted as simulated patients (SPs), and they gave immediate feedback to the participants.

Results:  Nineteen per cent of fifth-year students voluntarily undertook the ETC course. The course was rated ‘very informative’ by 68 per cent of the participants, and ‘informative’ by 32 per cent. Ninety-four per cent of the attendees recorded a personal learning gain, and 68 per cent suggested that the course should be obligatory. All the participants thought that the SPs played their roles realistically.

Discussion:  In their rating of the ETC, the fifth-year students gave it a mean mark of 5.5 (out of a maximum of 6), suggesting that they thought it had been very successful. Students became aware of their need for ETC training through the course itself, and they recommended that it should be obligatory. The ETC pilot received a highly positive response from lead clinicians who anticipated a rising number of telephone consultations, and who have to deal with trainees who have not been taught about how to deal with ETCs. As a result, the Faculty of Medicine decided to make the course obligatory.