Using Drama to Create Empathy in Medical Education

Using drama to help train future doctors? Sounds like a great idea to me. Our present educational system from kindergarten through graduate school needs a major paradigm shift. The day has long passed, if they were ever there, when lecture was an effective way to get students to learn. In fact most brain-based learning research puts lecture at a 5-10% retention rate! That is horrendous!

It's very heartening to hear that the University of California, Davis is integrating medical studies with literature in an attempt to "generate future physicians with both scientific acumen and cultural humility." The article "Drama and Empathy in Medical Education" by Matharu, Howell and Fitzgerald in Literature Compass (2011), discusses how medical humanities training is often "lecture-based, not allowing for much student input," so the use of drama is an effort to remedy that.

The following is from the article's abstract:
"Increasingly, undergraduate and graduate programs in medical humanities are exploring the ability of the arts to elucidate the human condition as it relates to patient care. At the University of California, Davis, students and faculty from both the Department of Medicine and English Literature have convened for informal readings  of scenes from dramatic works. This paper discusses the use of excerpts from Eugene O'Neill's Long Days Journey into Night and Berry Barta's Journey Into That Good Night in a medical education setting. Medical students participated in staged readings of these plays, which were filmed and then screened for a group of 30 medical students in order to elicit discussion."

Since empathy is something that we need to be teaching to students at all levels, it's interesting to see that higher education, long know for its penchance for lecture, is making a foray into integrating the arts into their curriculums. Instead of telling students about empathy, they are allowing them to find it on their own through drama which is not only more fun than listening to a lecture, but it allows students to relate the learning to their own lives and reflect on their own learning. Not to mention that the methodology provides novelty which brain-based research tells us is a pathway to increasing learning.

The article goes on to discuss the increased "engagement" and "enthusiasm" on the part of the students.Two concepts that have been discussed in this space many times. It was also great to read that the integration of the arts into the medical curriculum is being used in places all over the world.

Great news!


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