Medical Improv & Role Play

Medical improvisation

Medical improvisation or medical improv is an approach involving multiple narrative and communication strategies including role play, peer feedback and reflection. Medical improvisation can be used to enhance awareness and develop skills for improving communication with patients, families, teams or across disciplines; demonstrating empathy; and considering differences of gender, culture and other social determinants of health and health care delivery.

This approach adapts theater improvisation techniques and skills to medical education and the larger arena of health care and contributes to students' exploration of the concepts of narrative health care or medical humanities.

Role Play

Students are given parts to play in a scripted scenario. This may be done in pairs or small groups. At least one part is well-scripted.

The goal is for learners to enact/apply key principles, and for observers to analyze or evaluate these, assess dynamics of the interaction, or address specific questions concerning the principles involved.

Content Type: Communication skills; patient safety; Constructive/Disruptive behaviors; peer teaching; patient education, etc.

Scholarly Resources

  • Chou CL, Chang A & Hauer KE. Remediation workshop for medical students in patient-doctor interaction skills. Medical Education 42:513-543; 2008.

  • Hammer RR, Rian JD, Gregory JK, Bostwick JM, Barrett Birk C, Chalfant L, Scanlon PD & Hall-Flavin DK. Telling the Patient's Story: Using theater training to improve case presentation skills. J. Medical Ethics; Medical Humanities 37(1):18-22; 2011.

  • Hanley MA & Fenton MV. Exploring Improvisation in Nursing. Journal of Holistic Nursing 25(2); 2007.

  • Sawyer KR. Structure and Improvisation in Creative Teaching. Cambridge University Press; 2011.

  • Schleifer, Ronald, and Vannatta, Jerry. Chief Concern of Medicine : The Integration of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Knowledge into Medical Practices. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 29 September 2014.

  • Watson K. Perspective: Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills with Improvisational Theater Techniques. Academic Medicine 86(10):1260-1265; 2011.

Related Resources

Medical Improv Workshop

Katie Watson, JD, Assistant Professor in the Medical Humanities & Bioethics Program of Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, and Belinda Fu, MD, Clinical Instructor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington, and a Faculty Member at the Valley Family Medicine Residency Program, conduct workshops through MedicalImprov,org.