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What do improv and medicine have in common? More than you’d think. Although doctors in training tend to focus heavily on memorization, the practice of medicine itself is spontaneous rather than textbook, particularly interactions with patients. Interpersonal skills aren’t usually a big focus in medical school, and the use of standardized patients – actors who portray patients with common medical issues – to assess communication skills doesn’t seem to effectively translate to real-world clinical situations. As a result, some medical schools, including Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, have begun to use improv tools to practice soft skills such as communication, cognition, and teamwork, even drilling down to more specific situations such as interviewing patients or having difficult conversations. Why? As Anu Atluru indicates in his article for The Atlantic, “skilled improvisation is merely the interpersonal equivalent of having insight and being adaptable.” The ability to react to any situation, like in improv, is a critical skill in the medical world. Maybe those med students hanging out at amateur improv nights are looking for more than just a few laughs.
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