What Improv Can Teach Tomorrow’s Doctors

Here’s a funny one for ya … A doctor, a resident, and a patient walk into a bar.

Nah, not really. But from one physician’s point of view, humor can make you a more effective medical practitioner.

Anu Atluru, a Boston-based resident physician and writer, observes that medical school teaches structure and scripted interaction with patients. Doctors in training become acutely aware of their posture, eye contact, words they use, and pace of their dialogue. They are evaluated in medical school on their control and decorum, and they carry this tamped down demeanor with them into their practice.

By contrast, introducing spontaneity and personality to the doctor-patient dialogue is generally frowned up.

Drawing on the art of improvisational comedy, Dr. Atluru offers a refreshing take on how doctors can bring their true selves to the conversation. Through improv acting and stand-up comedy she learned a technique to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances” and to be “firmly rooted in the instinctive.”

Dr. Atluru explains that “improvisation is less about acting and more about reacting to others in a scene, to the audience, to the present. … skilled improvisation is merely the interpersonal equivalent of having insight and being adaptable.”

The takeaway: Bringing humor, honesty and personality into the mix is an effective way to connect. The practice of medicine is, by nature, spontaneous, so doctors need to be adaptable and real if they are to develop genuine relationships with their patients.

Want to explore this topic in more detail? Read Dr. Atluru’s column in The Atlantic: What Improv Can Teach Tomorrow’s Doctors.

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