Can improv play a role in healthcare? Yes, and more, 1 leader says

Building a positive workplace culture can take many forms. Compensation, benefits, work-life balance and career advancements are traditional elements in that formula. Beyond that, the extensive list of tools at health systems' disposal includes book clubs to build camaraderie.

Susmita Pati, MD, meanwhile, encourages health systems to take a cue from performance arts. For the past few years, the chief of the division of primary care pediatrics at Stony Brook (N.Y.) Medicine and chief medical program adviser for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science has helped develop a communications workshop based on improv principles.

Although improv's most well-known concept — "yes, and …" — plays a part in helping co-workers communicate, it is merely one piece of the puzzle. And although the connection between the art and working with patients is not overt, she said the relationship is there.

"In healthcare, we are doing improv every day, like whom you work with in a shift that changes," Dr. Pati told Becker's in a recent interview ahead of a proposal from two senators that March 18 be designated the Health Workforce Well-Being Day of Awareness. "We have new trainees that join our workforce on a regular basis, new hires, all of that, and we all need to work together in the moment to take care of the patient that's in front of us, even if we don't know each other very well. Improv is really based on that principle of taking what's been given to you and saying as they say yes, and building upon that piece.

"All of our evaluation is showing its positive impact both on communication skills for individuals, but also amongst team cohesion. [It is about] feeling that connection to the other folks that you are working with and thinking about ways that you can continue to leverage those opportunities for personal connection in your day-to-day work so that you're all rowing in the same direction."

In addition to the workshop and efforts tied to improv, Dr. Pati is monitoring technology and other tools to not only enhance workplace culture but reduce burnout.

"Everything from virtual scribes to the automated kind of billing pieces that can be done — all of those things are really important to support our workforce, who continue to be stressed with the high levels of burnout that are occurring," she said.

Helping to support Stony Brook Medicine's goal to reduce employees' stress is its Single Session Support Center.

"This is a virtual support that's available to healthcare workers in acute need," Dr. Pati said. "There's two pieces available for healthcare providers. One piece is something they can complete on their own. It's a single-session, web-based intervention to promote a growth mindset, and it's been proven to help reduce mild to moderate depression and anxiety. The other part is a virtual meeting with a trained person who can help guide development of a brief action plan around whatever the acute need is, and we are in the process of evaluating its impact here at Stony Brook Medicine."

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