Improvisation Training is Serious Business for Local Doctors

AMHERST — Ninety-five percent of students anonymously evaluating medical improv seminars from 2002 to 2010 agreed with the statement, “studying improv could make me a better doctor,” and 100{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} agreed with the statement, “I would recommend this class to other medical students,” according to “Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills with Improvisational Theater Techniques” in Academic Medicine, the journal of the Assoc. of American Medical Colleges.

How can that goofy stuff that Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Steve Carell did while building their comedy chops onstage help medical students become better doctors? As hard as it is to believe, improvisation has a very serious side when the same training exercises that improvisers use to prepare for the stage are applied to the workplace.

Already, improv training has had powerful and positive effects on doctors and patients throughout the Pioneer Valley, yielding a host of benefits, such as improved doctor-patient experience, better staff communication, the efficacy of residency programs, and the very culture of learning in hospitals. Communication, collaboration, innovation, redefining failure — these are the basic skills practiced through improv exercises, which healthcare workers are finding surprisingly valuable.

After doctors at Baystate Health completed Pam Victor’s two-hour “Communication Through Laughter” improv workshop at Happier Valley Comedy, Rebecca Blanchard, director of Healthcare Education at Baystate Health, said, “Pam’s workshop brought new light to critical elements of successful team practices and communication opportunities … Since we worked with Pam, my team has drawn on her workshop lessons many times to help frame feedback and motivate change.”

Victor has facilitated workshops in multiple departments throughout Baystate Health, such as Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, and Psychiatry, as word has spread about the benefits of improvisation training in the hospital. Victor also has taught communication training to a group of nurses working in a local prison, as well as the staff in a Florence dentist’s office.

After her staff workshop, Dr. Sue Keller said, “I use what I’ve learned everyday in my career and family, relating to what is happening here and now, responding instead of reacting. Pam is an amazing teacher and understands how to apply improv to life. We are so fortunate to have her in the Valley.”

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