Share this article on:

Perspective: Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills With Improvisational Theater Techniques

Watson, Katie JD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31822cf858
Art and Medical Education

The physician–patient encounter may be structured, but it is never scripted; every physician–patient interaction is to some degree improvised. Both physicians and improvisers must prepare for unpredictability, and the surprising and unrecognized overlap between improvisational theater and medical training and medical practice led the author to develop a seminar that tailors improvisational skills to physician needs, teaching communication, professionalism, and other medical skills through an approach she calls “medical improv.” The author observes that there is no example of this teaching strategy as a recurring part of a medical school curriculum reported in the literature, and she describes the contributions medical improv can make to physician skills. The author reports on medical students' positive response to the medical improv seminar she has taught at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine since 2002: 95% of students anonymously evaluating the seminar from 2002 to 2010 agreed with the statement, “Studying improv could make me a better doctor,” and 100% agreed with the statement, “I would recommend this class to other medical students.” The author proposes a medical improv teaching model that other medical schools and hospitals could adapt and adopt.

Ms. Watson is assistant professor of medical humanities and bioethics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms. Watson, Medical Humanities & Bioethics Program, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 750 N Lake Shore Drive #625, Chicago, IL 60611; telephone: (312) 503-1675; e-mail:

First published online August 24, 2011

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges