Introduction-what exactly is a clinical skill?

What exactly is a clinical skill?

This question was asked and answers teased out from 26 MDs with close to 10 years experience in a paper entitled “What is a clinical skill? Searching for order in chaos through a modified Delphi process.”

The Delphi what?

The Delphi process, according to Wikipedia, was developed at the beginning of the cold war, and was used to forecast the impact of technology on warfare.  Experts were asked to give their opinion on the probability, frequency, and intensity of possible enemy attacks.  Other experts could anonymously give feedback. This process was repeated several times until a consensus emerged.  Today the Delphi process is used to find consensus among experts who have differing views and perspectives, it is based on the assumption that group judgments are more valid than individual judgments. The participants are anonymous, and answer questions often in several rounds, as the facilitator sums up the answers, responses continue until the group converges toward consensus.  Can you think of examples where this method might not be helpful?

Click here for more information about Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi

Ok, back to the paper mentioned above

“What is a clinical skill? Searching for order in chaos through a modified Delphi process.” 

Background: Many seem to know what a clinical skill (CS) however variations on the definition exist.  Some use CS when referring to physical examination, whereas others use the term to also include diagnostic, communication and practical skills.  Clinical skills are more than the act of the performance of a skill.  They also include an often complex interplay of experience and knowledge.

Conclusion: A clinical skill may contain one or several different domains such as: physical examination skills, practical procedure, communication skills, and management. Acquiring clinical skills includes three components:

  • Learning how to perform certain movements (procedural knowledge)
  • Why one should do so (underlying basic science knowledge)
  • What the findings might mean (clinical reasoning).

If we are to teach clinical skills for clinical practice, we must take these three different components into account in our instructional design.

The University of Minnesota realizing the complexity and interwoven nature of clinical skills into all aspects of what we teach in veterinary science, has defined Clinical Skills (using a Delphinian method of sorts) as those components of Veterinary Practice that are similar across species.  Namely, skills associated with communicating with clients and patients, handling patients with low stress methods, performing physical exams, skills involved in obtaining samples for analysis, treatment skills, using clinical reasoning to formulate a problem list assessment and plan, surgical skills and many others.  The cross-linking of the doing and the knowing together, form a framework for future clinicians to thrive.


The Clinical Skill Compendium is designed to be a collection of useful information and links to help the user hone their clinical skills, brush up on a procedure before performing it, test their knowledge, and to help to find answers they seek.


Veterinary Clinical Skills Compendium Copyright © by Susan Spence. All Rights Reserved.

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