ASPE 2023 Opening Plenary Session – Improvisation and the Art of Medicine: Adaptable Skills for an Uncertain World

By: Samantha Syms, University of Miami Gordon Center 

Belinda Fu, MD, is a family physician, educator, and performing artist based in Seattle. During the ASPE 2023 opening plenary session, Dr. Fu asked us to consider how we can thrive in this uncertain world. She shared her experiences with improvisation as a physician, patient, educator, and actor, and explained the power of improv to transform the way we move through the world.

She proceeded to lead us through a series of activities including dividing the audience in two and exclaiming “I messed up!” and taking a bow while the other group applauded. The improv principle highlighted by this exercise was, “mistakes are gifts and opportunities,” essentially asking us to relish our mistakes rather than dwell on them. Dr. Fu then invited colleagues John-Michael Maury, Dan Sipp, and Briana Tierno to the stage to demonstrate a collaborative improv technique. They improvised a monologue, based on audience suggestion, and took turns building on the story maintaining the same affect, physicality, and tone. This activity focused on the principle “making my partners look good” encouraging a collaborative spirit and supportive dynamic. Dan closed with an exercise reflecting on various traits asking the audience to stand if the prompt resonated with them. For example, “stand up if you consider yourself an artist.” This activity demonstrated a way to bridge demographic silos through commonality and connections. To me, it emphasized inclusion and empathy, and I felt a shared sense of unity among the audience.

Through compelling stories and engaging audience interaction, Dr. Fu, and colleagues, shared how improv can positively transform communication, energize teaching, strengthen relationships, navigate conflict, and nurture healthy, joyful resilience for individuals and communities so that we may thrive in times of uncertainty and change. Many of these takeaways parallel what we seek to incorporate and foster within our SP programs.

Learn more about Medical Improv at Dr. Fu’s website here.

Communications and Connections Committee Mission: “To bring high quality reporting of current research, trends, techniques and information regarding SP methodology and other relevant industry articles to the attention of the membership through the web-based ASPE eNews blog.”

Please provide comments, questions or suggestions about the ASPE eNews Blog here.

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