Anyone prepping for a new experience will often rehearse scenarios to make sure everything goes right. If you’re giving a presentation, don’t you often run through it in your head at least once? When running a road race, others might mentally map the route so they know where the toughest points are. Well, your job is really no different. Prepping and rehearsing for all kinds of outcomes will only help you when the real situation is at hand.
Beth Boynton, RN, MS, and author of the upcoming book Successful Nurse Communication: Safe Care, Healthy Workplaces, and Rewarding Careers, brings healthcare professionals together for a spontaneous kind of theater-inspired rehearsal called medical improv.
“Medical improv is a type of applied improv to help providers and consumers in situations that are unique to healthcare,” she says. So, no, you aren’t going to be asked to do your best comedy routine or even something funny. The great part of practicing these scenarios with others is that participants rehearse for the best outcomes, but also learn how to play off others’ ideas and reactions.
“You cannot participate in improv without listening and speaking up,” Boynton says. Part of the medical improv model is that participants have to be willing to participate in what is going on and to move forward as the topic unfolds. The communication skills gained during a medical improv session greatly improve team interactions and even patient and caregiver interactions when situations arise. The more you can learn to really and fully listen and then communicate your own views in a respectful and concise way, the more positive interactions are.
How can medical improv help nurses who likely already feel their work days are filled with on-the-spot decisions? “It increases your ability to think spontaneously, and your critical thinking skills are improved,” says Boynton. “And you stay focused.” Because medical improv helps you hone in on paying careful attention, you really learn to listen to what others are saying and notice what they are doing.
For interpersonal relationships, medical improv adds a layer of bonding as well. The kinds of activities and scenarios in medical improv are very specific to what is found in healthcare as opposed to other industries. Among colleagues who always depend on each other, medical improv activities strengthen those bonds and build trust and respect.
But no one said improvisation is easy, and it doesn’t always feel natural. “It’s challenging at first but it gets you out of that clinical environment that is so intensely pressured,” says Boynton. “It’s hard to practice new behaviors in that environment.”
And what might nurses notice about using medical improv skills? They might learn to change their knee-jerk reactions to certain situations, but they might also learn very subtle skills like body language to help comfort patients.
And in the end, they might find they’re able to listen more intently and have greater understanding of what’s going on in front of them and behind the scenes as well.