Interactive Studies Unit (ISU)

Students in a classroom talking at each other.

The Interactive Studies Unit (ISU) aims to offer teaching and assessment of the highest quality in clinical communication, language and professionalism to healthcare students across the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. 

The ISU also undertakes innovative and applicable research, which can inform our teaching and educational understanding.  Developing effective communication is an essential core competency for undergraduate healthcare students and is encouraged from the outset of their training.

ISU Aims

The ISU was founded in 1993 to foster and advance the teaching of Clinical Communication on the MBChB and BDS Programmes and to offer and develop it more widely across the College. Today, we teach and assess clinical communication across six healthcare programmes; Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Adult Nursing, Child Nursing and Mental Health Nursing.  We also contribute to the teaching and assessment on the Independent Prescribing, Physiotherapy, Physician Associate and Applied Leadership & Management programmes.

Our aims are to design and deliver the best clinical communication courses for the healthcare professions; to undertake original research, reflecting the wide range of expertise of the team; to develop personally and communally as educators; and to recognise that our expertise, and therefore our responsibilities, extend beyond what is historically understood by the term “communication skills”.


Communication teaching at Birmingham has moved far from the traditional skills-based approaches associated with very early development, to become an integrated and complex concern throughout the educational curricula. Curriculum development focusses, therefore, on professionalisation, character and values-based practice.

The ISU seeks to remain a significant contributor nationally and internationally in the education and development of thoughtful, values-based healthcare practitioners who will be a credit to their professions. We do this by shaping the field in areas of communication, but through a focus on the relationship between interaction, professional development and the embodiment of values.

Above all, the ISU was conceived from the outset as a multi-disciplinary educational team – and that’s how we have remained.

Who are we?

Core staff at present have qualifications in Education, Humanities, Linguistics, Medicine, Health Care, Literature, Communication and Performance Arts, to name only those areas with obvious relevance to our teaching.

What do we do?

We deliver thousands of teaching hours per year, with a wide variety of healthcare professionals.

We teach students everything from the foundational communication skills and strategies necessary for effective consultations to communicating with colleagues and in a variety of areas such as raising concerns, conflict resolution, handling uncertainty, delivering difficult news, and shared decision making.

Simulation is a core experiential teaching method for teaching about and assessing human interaction. We utilise a highly diverse and experienced team of professional role players. We have tried to develop research with a difference, reflecting the unique mix of expertise of the Unit, and concentrating therefore on work which could not easily be undertaken elsewhere, in the link between language and communication, for example.

In addition to core teaching the ISU host a unique, cross-programme support service for students identified as having progression difficulty in any area, or areas, other than process or procedure. The Referred Students Programme is the only one of its kind, offering one-to-one support in language, communication, professionalisation and organisation to up to 70 individuals per year.


Finally, in addition to our own primary research, we have been built in as consultants on research projects headed by other people and other institutions in UK and abroad. All of which means that at present we are in a strong position, and hope and expect to develop further.

Meet the Team


Professional Services: 

Amy Comerford
Debbie Matthews

Contact us