Improv to improve patient care: Comedy in the medical classroom

September 19, 2016

To improve patient care, the University of Michigan Medical School has adopted a new method to teach students innovative ways of positively relating to patients. It has introduced improvisational theater workshops, or “improv” to supplement students’ communication skills.

David P. Fessell, faculty associate with the Center for Positive Organizations, was a leading proponent of bringing improv as a pedagogical technique to the medical school. Fessell told Medicine at Michigan, “you have to be listening, seeing, tuned to [the other person’s] body language, to their emotions, to their words. Improv teaches connection, empathy and trust.” The uniquely additive and collaborative nature of improvisation reinforces the need for future medical professionals to be actively aware and responsive to patients’ needs.

Fessell is a professor of radiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, creativity consultant, executive coach, and faculty associate of the Center for Positive Organizations.