Medically Relevant Improv: Using Improvisation to Teach Empathetic Communication to Medical Professionals

Melanie Leon


Medical professional and patients often have a difficult time communicating with each other. Despite 30 years of patient centered care, medical professionals still tend to rush office call appointments and redirect conversations before patients are able to discuss their entire agenda. To meet the need for teaching improved communication and empathetic listening, a training program based on improvisation theatre, Medical Relevant Improv (MRI), was created. This program, reflecting the teachings of Augusto Boal, Jonathan Fox, and Jacob Moreno, used the improv tenets of teamwork and trust, acceptance, and active listening to help medical students through realistic role play scenarios. The program was deployed with Adventist Health System’s occupational therapy program. Scenarios they were likely to see in practice were created and the students watched as trained improv actors played out the scenes using poor verbal communication and body language. Students were then given the opportunity to brain storm better methods of communicating with patients and to practice these methods. The program was highly successful and received positive feedback from the students and their professors, with students gaining a better understanding of empathetic listening while learning skills they could immediately use to improve client communication. It is hoped that the program can become a permanent part of the occupational therapy program at Adventist Health System and be used in other medical training situations, as well.