Nurses Borrow from Comics to Sharpen Communication Skills

Jennifer Thew, RN, August 23, 2016

A technique used in comedy clubs is helping nurses develop vital communication skills—but without the laughs.

In the emerging practice of medical improv, humor isn't the end goal.

Beth Boynton, RN, MS
Beth Boynton, RN, MS

When people hear the word "improv," they usually˙ think of the type of comedy made famous by The Second City, Chicago's comedy club, theater and school of improvisation. But improv doesn't always have to lead to a joke.

"We take teaching strategies and activities from improvisational theater and we use them to build soft skills that we need for communication, teamwork, and leadership," says Beth Boynton, RN, MS, organizational development consultant at Beth Boynton Consulting Services, in Portsmouth, NH.

"Instead of worrying about entertaining or being funny, we're going to focus on how medical improv helps us build skills and solve these big problems in healthcare," she says.

Medical Errors are No Laughing Matter

Major issues such as patient safety, patient experience, job satisfaction, and horizontal and vertical violence are all effected by communication, interpersonal interactions, and teamwork, says Boynton.

Likewise, The Joint Commission cites failure of communication, lack of empowerment, and distraction as contributing factors to sentinel events like wrong-site surgery, patient falls, and unintended retained foreign objects.

The beauty of medical improv is that it helps participants move from intellectually knowing a problem exists to experientially understanding the problem, says Boynton.

Jennifer Thew, RN

Jennifer Thew, RN is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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