What Would a Medical Improv Pilot Project Look Like in a Hospital? Say, for a Med-Surg Unit?

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Hospital signMedical Improv is a newish process that has the potential of being an extremely powerful way to improve communication, build positive relationships, and reduce stress.   Healthcare leaders in today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing landscapes already know that ALL of these are essential to providing safe care, optimizing patient experience, retention of quality staff, and wisest use of resources.  I say newish because the process has been around for years but the applications in healthcare are relatively new.  There are some courses in medical schools, but little has been available to nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Medical Improv utilizes principles and activities from theatre in ways that can benefit the world of healthcare.  As a group process consultant specializing in communication and collaboration, a nurse w/ >25 years experience in the field, and many years of improv study/play, I see tremendous value in this process for nurses and other healthcare professionals.  At the end of this post I’ll list some links to resources to give you more of an idea about what Medical Improv looks like.  Right now I’d like to share my vision of how it could unfold on a Med-Surg Unit.

The first step would include a planning meeting with leadership.  This meeting would include discussion of organizational priorities,  demonstration of the process, answering questions, brainstorming, engaging support and champions for the project, and scheduling.

The second step would be to provide half-day (3 hour) training to small groups (8-16 people) of staff and over time, e.g. a 2-4 week period, make sure that all staff on the unit have the training.  Mixing up nurses who typically work different shifts will help build important relationships and offering at different times will help to honor all.  Depending on organizational interest, goals, and budget, other staff staff or independent practitioners such physicians, P.T., O.T. etc. who frequently interface with the unit, can be included. This half day training introduces everyone to the basic rules of Medical Improv.  It is exciting to see how different people grow by working on the same activity together e.g. some learn to be more assertive and some better listeners.

The third step is to offer several additional 90 min sessions.  Once the basics are learned in step two, there are a wide variety of activities that staff will now be able to play as well progress to more challenging ones with some facilitation and coaching. I recommend all unit staff be required to go to 3 additional sessions while encouraging organizations to offer 5 or 6.  This will ensure that staff have enough exposure to the process so that they can build skills and relationships that will have a rippling effect of positive energy throughout the unit and allow a variety of combinations of people to work together.  Options to frame sessions on organizational needs can be discussed in step one and further assessed during initial training. Because there are many activities and variations to activities focused learning can build emotional intelligence, critical thinking, assertiveness, listening, positive relationships and much more.

The fourth step, would involve ideas from staff and leaders based on experience, results, interest, etc.  I can envision monthly sessions that are optional, staff taking on teaching/facilitating roles, incorporating into orientation, organizational fund-fundraising opportunities, and train-the-trainer programs.  (I can also envision an undergraduate elective course for students of all healthcare and related programs of study.  Preventing silos from ever forming!)

If you are interested in trying something different to build the community of your workforce please contact me:  beth@bethboynton.com.  I’m inspired by the promise of the work and will negotiate a fair and reasonable consulting rate.

Here are some resources:

Medical Improv:  Learning Experiences that Promote Safe Care, Positive Workplaces, & Rewarding Careers (100 min grassroots youtube involving national experts)



Staff Conflict & Patient Complaints: Which of These Sample Cases is Too Familiar & How Can Medical Improv Help?

Could Focus on EQ in Hospitals Be a Door for Integrating Medical Improv Programs?

Medical Improv Teaching Sample: Collaboration Activity

Quality & Safety Intersection: Medical Improv & Health Care!

Medical Improv for Empathy & Other Emotional Intelligence Skills in Healthcare Professionals? It is a HOT Topic!

Academic Articles

“Perspective: Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills With Improvisational Theater Techniques”,  Professor Katie Watson, JD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Academic Medicine, Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, October 2011 – Volume 86 – Issue 10 – pp 1260-1265

“Improvisational Exercises to Improve Pharmacy Students’ Professionals Communication Skills”,  Kevin P. Boesen, PharmD, Richard N. Herrier, PharmD, David A. Apgar, PharmD and Rebekah M. Jackowski, PharmD, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education,  April 2009.

Additional Websites/Teachers

LifestageBB closer Headshot 1-13 Cherations

Candace Campbell, DNP, MSN-HCSM, CNL


Applied Improvisation Network

Beth has been trained in the Professor Watson Medical Improv Curriculum at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Contact beth@bethboynton.com or 603-319-8293 to learn more about “Medical Improv” for your organization or to develop curriculum.

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