By: Jolie Blair
Actress, comedian, writer and producer Tina Fey has Four Rules of Improv that highlight the foundation of the theatrical practice:
- “The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE.
- The second rule of improve is to not only say YES, say YES, AND.
- The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS.
- THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only OPPORTUNITITES.”
At the intersection of medicine and improvisation, the actor is a medical professional who must act and respond to certain, unplanned situations. Improv has been shown, in medical education, to help “build students’ comfort with and skills in complex, interpersonal behaviors such as effective listening, person-centeredness, teamwork and communication.” 
One of the most popular improv exercises, also used in the Boesen study, is the ‘yes and…’ technique. This exercise is used to promote organic communication between the two scene partners. The actors’ location, relationship, and other information is given to them, and one actor begins the exercise with a simple statement. The other actor must respond in a way that carries the conversation with ‘yes and…’ rather than ‘no and…’. For example:
“Student 1 (mother): You’re home late. It’s 3 in the morning.
Student 2 (son): Yes, and I was at a huge party all night long. You’re up late, too.
Student 1: Yes, and I was also at a party. I just got home myself. I am surprised that I beat you home. Student 2: Yes, and I am surprised you beat me home, too. You are usually out until at least sun-rise.”
While this example is a little stale, the more practice scene partners have, the less structured the ‘yes and…’ sentences become, and the flow is more organic. Some amazing examples of professional improv can be seen on the Whose Line is it Anyways’s website and The Second City’s live performances.
Although using improv as a tool to enhance communication is slowly being incorporated into medical education, more studies and more implementation need to be done. Katie Watson and Belinda Fu are trying to break the barrier between theatre and medicine by creating, what they have coined, “medical improv” or “the adaptation of improvisational theater principles and training techniques to improve communication, cognition, and teamwork in the field of medicine.” The Applied Improvisation Network is another organization trying to bring together theater and other fields by applying improv to “non-theatrical or performance purposes.” The relationship between improv and medical education is so strong and important that more medical schools should implement improv classes and other theatrical performances into their medical curriculum. In order to improve their communication and empathy skills, medical students and medical professionals should all be pairing their scalpels for Sondheim.
While many institutions have yet to incorporate improv into their medical curriculums, Emory University Medical School’s Clinical Skills Center is hosting improv sessions for anyone interested in healthcare. Please see the flyer, and infographic, below and get in contact if you, your friends, or your group is interested!
 Boesen, K. P., Herrier, R. N., Apgar, D. A., & Jackowski, R. M. (2009). Improvisational Exercises to Improve Pharmacy Students' Professional Communication Skills. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 73(2), 35. doi:10.5688/aj730235
 Hojat, M., Louis, D. Z., Markham, F. W., Wender, R., Rabinowitz, C., & Gonnella, J. S. (2011). Physicians' Empathy and Clinical Outcomes for Diabetic Patients. Academic Medicine, 86(3), 359-364. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182086fe1
 Rakel, D., Barrett, B., Zhang, Z., Hoeft, T., Chewning, B., Marchand, L., & Scheder, J. (2011). Perception of empathy in the therapeutic encounter: Effects on the common cold. Patient Education and Counseling, 85(3), 390-397. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2011.01.009