Why Pharmacists Should Practice Improvisational Comedy
A study found that student pharmacists who had improv coursework included in their curriculum refined their communication skills.
“All the world’s a stage, and all [are] merely players,” Shakespeare wrote.
When we go to work or to school, we choose how we present ourselves to our patients and colleagues. We need the abilities to remain calm in chaos and to confidently make clinical choices.
Participating in improvisational comedy, known as ‘improv,' can help enhance these skills that are essential to providing the best patient care, according to a study. This research found that student pharmacists who had improv coursework included in their curriculum refined their communication skills.1
Here are some reasons more why pharmacy professionals should engage in improv:
Learn How to Adapt to Different Situations
Engaging in improv teaches you how to deal with unexpected circumstances. Your partner may say something random during a performance and you need to adjust to the scenario presented. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were a pirate, but your partner blurted something out about being a grocery store cashier—now, you have to respond quickly and logically.
Unexpected circumstances also happen in health care. Perhaps the guidelines say that a patient should receive a certain medication, but it turns out that the medication is contraindicated or on backorder. Adaptability is an essential component of treating patients appropriately, and practicing Improv can help increase work performance.
Improv comedy tends to be silly and unrealistic. Actors are forced to portray a variety of scenarios, such as devising a scheme about stealing a pasta recipe or pretending to translate a foreign language. Thinking of scenarios like this improves creativity, which is vital in health care.
Sometimes medical professionals need to think outside the box to save lives. For example, some doctors have successfully used extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to resuscitate patients who were in refractory anaphylaxis even though this was not part of standard guidelines.2 Creative thinking allows health care teams to come up with new solutions in critical cases.
In improv, actors do not memorize lines because the scenarios that they depict will often depend on what the audience requests. This forces actors to communicate concisely and get to their point quickly. If they think of convoluted stories on stage, their partners might not understand how to behave in the situation. The number 1 rule of improv comedy is to never say “no.” Whenever someone comes up with a new idea on stage, you must reply by saying “yes” and then adding on to what your partner suggested.
This strategy can be used when communicating with other healthcare providers. Improv teaches people how to work together to find solutions, such as when dosing errors are made or the incorrect medication is recommended. Instead of blaming colleagues for having differences of opinion, we need to think in terms of improv: everyone has different ideas, but we need to come together to make them work.
When you watch people perform improv comedy, you laugh the entire time. As health care providers, we undergo a large amount of stress on a daily basis.
When you enjoy a funny performance happening in front of you, you do not worry about all of the patients that you saw earlier in the day. Regularly smiling until your cheeks hurt can help prevent burnout. Additionally, getting feedback on an improv performance teaches you to not take things so personally, thus making it easier to accept constructive criticism at work.
Participating in a club or activity outside of our regular day jobs allows us to meet more people and network. I befriended several medical students on campus at Rosalind Franklin University when I—quite spontaneously—joined an improv club on campus. Weekly rehearsals allowed me to see the fun side of future health care providers. I learned how to accept and give feedback, and how to work together to solve problems.
Getting to know people on a personal level allows for better interprofessional teams because everyone can easily talk to each other to decide what treatment is best for patients. Networking can also open doors for new and exciting opportunities. Meeting fun colleagues makes work feel like a good part of life.
Participating in an improv comedy club directly translated from my personal to my professional life. It gave me an opportunity for growth, forcing me out of my comfort zone. A few practice sessions taught me how to improvise when needed at work. I felt more at ease talking with patients and healthcare professionals. I learned how to think quickly in new situations and how to respond, even if my colleagues had ideas that differed from mine.
They say that the only constant in life is change, and improv is a useful tool that can teach us how to adapt to life’s challenges.
Are you looking for ways to engage in medical improv? Visit www.medicalimprov.org.
Betty Derza is a 2020 PharmD candidate at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science College of Pharmacy in Illinois.
- Boesen KP, Herrier RN, Apgar DA, Jackowski RM. Improvisational exercises to improve pharmacy students’ professional communication skills. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009;73(2):35.
- Lafforgue E, Sleth JC, Pluskwa F, Saizy C. Successful extracorporeal resuscitation of a probable perioperative anaphylactic shock due to atracurium. Ann Fr Anesth Reanim. 2005;24(5):551-5. doi:10.1016/j.annfar.2005.02.008.