Theater training helps doctors enhance patient care with clinical empathy skills
Research Highlights: Theater Skills Help Doctors with Bedside Manner; Findings Could Help Train Doctors in the Future; First Study to Examine the Effect of Clinical Empathy Training
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
Video Clip 1: "Physicians
can use these skills to develop rapport with patients"
Audio Clip 1: .MP3 format
Video Clip 2: "A
better therapeutic relationship"
Audio Clip 2: .MP3 formatDoctors
taught empathy techniques by theater professors show improved bedside manner,
according to a pilot study by a Virginia Commonwealth University research team.
The findings may help in the
development of medical curriculum for clinical empathy training. Clinical
empathy skills allow doctors to recognize a patient's emotional status and to
respond to the patient's needs. Patients often identify empathy skills, such as
understanding, listening and honesty, as important traits in their primary care
Results of the
VCU study, conducted by faculty members from the departments of Theatre and Internal Medicine, indicate a significant
improvement in the clinical empathy skills of internal medicine residents at
the VCU Medical Center following six hours of instruction
with professors of theater. The study was published in the
August issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
training in empathy skills is minimal, and no previous study has examined the
efficacy of clinical empathy training.
it's important that this study showed that there are measurable clinical
empathy skills and that those skills can be taught to residents," said study
co-author Alan Dow, M.D., associate director of residency training and assistant
professor of internal medicine at the VCU
Medical Center. "Improved empathy skills for doctors will mean that
patients have better interactions with their doctors and are more satisfied
with their care."
to Aaron Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of theater at VCU and a study
co-author, clinical encounters are similar to the interactions that actors experience
during performance. Members of the VCU Theatre-Medicine Team translated the skills
of the stage to fit the doctor-patient dynamic, emphasizing the importance of
both verbal and nonverbal cues to the study's 14 participating residents. The
doctors attended lectures and workshops in which they engaged in role-playing,
occasionally with acting professors playing the parts of patients.
not teaching doctors to be actors," Anderson said. "But there are some elements
of theater training that can be applied to medical training and can be useful
for doctors trying to connect with patients."
Theatre-Medicine Team expanded its original study earlier this year, holding
classroom and workshop sessions with 33 internal medicine residents and observing
the residents' interaction with patients. The team is currently analyzing the results
of that study.
to Dow and Anderson, the pilot study's authors include David Leong, chair of
the VCU Department of Theatre, and Richard Wenzel, M.D., chair of the VCU
Department of Internal Medicine.
About VCU and VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.