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Teaching Medical Students to Communicate With Empathy and Clarity Using Improvisation

Kaplan-Liss, Evonne, MD, MPH; Lantz-Gefroh, Valeri, MFA; Bass, Elizabeth, MPH; Killebrew, Deirdre, PhD; Ponzio, Nicholas, M., PhD; Savi, Christine, PhD; O’Connell, Christine, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002031
Innovation Reports

Problem Medical educators widely accept that health care providers need strong communication skills. The authors sought to develop a course incorporating improvisation to teach health professions students communication skills and build empathy.

Approach Teaching health care professionals to communicate more effectively with patients, the public, and each other is a goal of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. The authors designed an interprofessional elective for medical, nursing, and dental students that differed in several respects from traditional communication training. The Communicating Science elective, which was offered by the Alda Center from 2012 to 2016, used verbal and nonverbal exercises, role-playing, and storytelling, including improvisation exercises, to teach students to communicate with empathy and clarity.

Outcomes In course evaluations completed by 76 students in 2012 and 2013, 100% said they would recommend the course to fellow students, saw the relevance of the course content to their careers, and desired more of the course content in their school’s curriculum. As a result of this positive feedback, from 2014 to 2016, 10 hours of instruction pairing empathy and communication training was embedded in the preclinical curriculum at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

Next Steps This course could be an effective model, and one that other institutions could employ, for improving communication skills and empathy in the next generation of health care professionals. Next steps include advocating for communication skills training to be embedded throughout the curriculum of a four-year medical school program.

E. Kaplan-Liss is assistant dean of narrative reflection and patient communication and professor of medical education, Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine (applicant for Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation), Fort Worth, Texas.

V. Lantz-Gefroh is improvisation program leader, Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, School of Journalism, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York.

E. Bass is visiting associate professor of journalism and director emerita, Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, School of Journalism, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York.

D. Killebrew is associate director, Applied DNA Sciences, Inc., Stony Brook, New York.

N.M. Ponzio is professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey.

C. Savi is assistant dean of assessment and quality improvement and associate professor of medical education, Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine (applicant for Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation), Fort Worth, Texas.

C. O’Connell is assistant professor of science communication, School of Journalism and Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at http://links.lww.com/ACADMED/A505.

Correspondence should be addressed to Evonne Kaplan-Liss, Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine, TCU Box 297085, Fort Worth, TX 76129; telephone: (631) 807-8254; e-mail: Evonne.Kaplan-Liss@fwmdschool.org.

© 2018 by the Association of American Medical Colleges