How can medical students learn from improv work?

The technical aspects of practicing medicine are undoubtedly the most vital. But the interpersonal aspects of being a physician cannot be forgotten.

In a recent Atlantic article, Anu Atluru, MD, outlined the significance of improvisation in the medical world.

Since the 1960s, medical schools have been using standardized patients — SPs — to evaluate medical students' communication skills. These SPs are actors who portray certain types of patients. Students are then assessed on their posture, eye contact and general interpersonal skills.

But research shows medical professionals don't see SPs as valuable in evaluating communication skills.

Dr. Atluru heralds the importance of improvisation because she took an improv class during her undergraduate years.

"Through…experiences with sketch and standup comedy, I came to appreciate that improvisation is less about acting and more about reacting — to others in a scene, to the audience [and] to the present," she wrote.

In addition, Dr. Atluru cites the research of Katie Watson, JD, an assistant professor of medical education at Chicago-based Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Ms. Watson, who's also a faculty member at Chicago's Second City comedy theater, claims medical school makes it challenging for students to "clearly articulate their own emotional point of view and accurately perceive that of others." She claims a physician's "job is to help retain and harness the power of the innate skills that people bring."

Other outside research highlights the fact that communication skills can boost physician-patient relationships and reduce physicians' job-related stress and risk of litigation.

These trends highlight an undeniable change in medical education. "A new priority is arising — to inject the person back into the interpersonal," wrote Dr. Atluru.

More articles on integration and physician issues:
Why 100 Florida Hospital physicians are learning 'table manners' at Gettysburg
National healthcare staffing firm buys locum tenens company
CMS may allow NPs, PAs to provide home care 

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