Communicating with patients is arguably the most common and important activity in medical practice, but this activity receives relatively little emphasis in graduate medical education. We propose 12 evidence-based communication competencies that program directors can adopt as a framework for teaching and evaluating residents' communication skills. We review supporting evidence for these competencies and argue that communication should be treated like a procedural skill that must be taught and evaluated by observing real resident-patient interactions. We make practical suggestions for implementing these competencies by addressing three critical components of a competency-based approach to communication skills: patient safety, faculty development, and direct observation of residents. This approach to teaching and assessing communication skills provides a rationale for incorporating routine direct observation into graduate medical education programs and also for designing communication skills training that ensures graduating residents develop the skills needed to provide safe, effective patient care.
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