Just when we think we’ve got it figured out…: Scientific insights – and personal lessons – from 20 years of team communication research When I began my research career in medical education, the only studies of communication were focused on how doctors talk to their patients. The education discourse arising from this work was predicated on the notion of ‘communication skill’. And the word ‘rhetoric’ got very strange looks from people. Now, I’ve spent 20 years studying how healthcare providers communicate – not with their patients, but with one another. As a rhetorician, my research emphasizes what communication does, the way it shapes understanding and action in social settings. In three major programmatic threads, my research team has studied how medical trainees and their supervisors communicate during clinical education activities; how health care professionals communicate to collaboratively deliver clinical care in a variety of healthcare settings; and how communication and collaboration factor into medical education’s emerging sense of what it means by ‘competence’. The governing premise across all my work is that language is not only descriptive: it is also constructive of our realities. Overall, I would characterize my research as revealing that what we think of as ‘common sense’ –in short, our unquestioned ‘reality’ — is actually constructed by pervasive (and often tacit) language practices. This keynote presentation will share key scientific highlights from this research program, including:
- Communication is a proxy for competence in clinical training.
- Language is not self-evident: interpretation is (almost) everything
- Communication problems have more to do with rhetorical situation than individual skill
- Meaning emerges not only from spoken discourse, but also from silence
- Clinical faculty use a linguistic ‘code’ to communicate about trainee competence
- Communication is more than human interaction – the socio-material matters too.