No Joke: The Serious Role of Improv in Medicine

Author: Sarah Mahoney
Submitted by: Janice Radway, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Ajay Paul Singh, a second-year student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, felt a little nervous enrolling in a medical improv elective. But he says one exercise alone made the sweaty palms worthwhile.

The scene started with one participant standing in front of the class of 14, pretending to be an apathetic librarian. A second student then stepped in with the mission of mimicking the first student’s emotion without knowing what it was. But that participant misread apathy for sadness, performing in a way that made the first actor say, “Whoa, you’re bringing me down!” Next, her partner portrayed a frustrated accountant, but people mistook frustration for excitement.

“It opened my eyes, in a light-hearted way, to see how often we misunderstand people,” Singh says. “It was fun and humbling at the same time.”

Read more about the program here.

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