Original Publication
Open Access

Teaching Adolescent Interviewing Skills

Published: June 27, 2013 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9456

Included in this publication:

  • Evaluation Tools.pdf
  • Instructor's Guide.pdf
  • Teaching Plan.pdf

To view all publication components, extract (i.e., unzip) them from the downloaded .zip file.

Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


After reading an article on the HEADSS interview and attending the Adolescent Medicine Learning Session with individualized goal setting and coached role play, third-year medical students will identify a learning goal and perform a HEADSS examination with a standardized patient checklist in an adolescent patient coming in for contraception, as measured by an OSCE station.

Adolescents, who constitute 13% of the population in the United States, have specific health care needs, and addressing their needs requires skillful communication. Physicians in many disciplines provide care for adolescents, including pediatricians, family physicians, obstetricians/gynecologists, psychiatrists, surgeons and many subspecialists. While pediatric residents must complete a rotation in adolescent medicine, there is no consistent requirement for residents in other disciplines to acquire skills in interviewing adolescents. Little data exists on medical student education in adolescent medicine. Even with specific residency training, practicing pediatricians feel less competent to care for adolescents than for infants or children. Effective education in adolescent interviewing may help address this need. The HEADSS (Home, Education, Eating, Activities, Drug Use, Sexuality and Suicidality) framework provides an approach to adolescent interviewing that starts with non-threatening topics like home and school and progresses to more personal questions. Building skills in interviewing adolescents during medical school will help prepare physicians in all disciplines to meet the needs of the adolescent population more effectively.

While literature exists that describes the HEADSS interview itself, there are no published teaching activities that medical school faculty can use to teach the skills needed to conduct a HEADSS interview. With a published teaching plan and assessment tools like those in this submission, medical educators will have teaching tools that are easy to use to instruct medical students on these important skills. Initial analysis of evaluative data for this teaching plan shows that after the described introduction to the HEADSS examination, most students covered most of the topic areas of this screening interview during a subsequent standardized patient encounter. Furthermore, retrospective pre/post questionnaire data show that the students acquired important knowledge and skills in interviewing adolescents. This suggests that a relatively brief, low-cost teaching intervention (about 2 hours plus some prerequisite reading) does build important skills.

One concern raised in our evaluative data is that only about half of the students included questions about symptoms of depression, unlike other topics addressed in a HEADSS interview. Our next step with these teaching materials is to highlight the topic of depression in class discussion, help the students formulate specific questions to include in an adolescent interview about depression, and target the topic of depression during coached role play—then evaluate the next cohort of students to see if they include depression in their interviews.

The evaluation tools included with the teaching plan in this publication provide ways for teachers in other settings to assess the skills acquired by the learners in their contexts. They can then identify topics that require additional emphasis during teaching sessions.

In summary, coached role play with goal-setting seems to be an effective way to teach the HEADSS approach to adolescent interviewing, although the teaching may need explicit emphasis on questions about depression.

Educational Objectives

At the end of the session the learner will be able to:

  1. Conduct the adolescent HEADSS interview in a role play with other medical students.
  2. Identify a learning goal for improving their own skills in performing the adolescent HEADSS interview.
  3. Perform a HEADSS examination of an adolescent patient coming in for contraception.

Author Information

  • Paritosh Kaul, MD: University of Colorado School of Medicine
  • Janice Hanson, PhD, EdS: University of Colorado School of Medicine

None to report.

None to report.


Kaul P, Hanson J. Teaching adolescent interviewing skills. MedEdPORTAL. 2013;9:9456. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9456