Residents Use Improvisation Exercises to Enhance Communication Skills With Patients

Dr. John Cavacace leads an improv activity.

“We don’t always know the direction of our patient conversations,” said Justin Blaauwendraat, Family Medicine Service Chief Resident, Mercy Health Grand Rapids.

To help prepare our health care providers to navigate the direction of patient conversations, Mercy Health led 30 of its medical residents through several improvisation, or “improv,” exercises during the Medical Residency Fall Retreat for 2017.

Leading the exercises were established improv artist Debra Rockey, regional director of Organizational Development and Talent Management, Mercy Health, and Consultant Becky Cesario, Provider Development, along with several physician leaders.

Cesario regularly works with the Mercy Health Physician Partners offices on improvisation exercises as a way for clinical professionals to develop and enhance their non-clinical communications.

“When our clinicians walk into a room, they may know the patient’s medical history, but not what the patient is going to say or how the patient will react. Improv helps the provider roll with the unexpected and keeps the conversation moving forward in a positive manner,” said Cesario.

Performing improv was a very positive experience, according to the residents.

“Aside from all the laughs, I think the improv exercises challenged the residents to step outside their comfort zone and explore different ways of expression,” said Blaauwendraat. “It also made us realize the importance of being present in the moment and the role of active listening when engaging with our patients.”

Residents act out a conversation with “someone they haven’t seen in 20 years.”

Some of the activities included act as “if you just met someone on the street after not seeing them for 20 years,” and acting out a phone message without any words, performances that Blaaewendraat found useful.

“We don’t always know the direction the conversations we have with our patients is going to go, so learning a few basic skills that allow us to observe body language and pay close attention to the emotional context of our dialogue with patients will hopefully transfer to improved patient care and communication.”

Thanks to Rockey and Cesario for sharing their skills with our medical residents as they performed this wellness activity.

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