Tonight I had the lovely opportunity to pop into the University of Washington School of Medicine to lead an evening workshop for first and second year students as part of their student-run wellness series. A couple of the students had participated in one of my sessions last year at the WAFP student-resident retreat, so I felt honored that they wanted to share this work with their classmates.
After they snacked on some Pagliacci pizza, we went over some context, warmed up, and then jumped into a few exercises: the failure bow, patterns, 'yes and' conversations, and word-at-a-time proverbs. It was no surprise to me that they were smart, engaged, earnest, quick learners, and lots of fun.
What I found so distinctively inspiring was their remarkable creativity about the many possible applications of this work. Within minutes of introducing the core concepts, the students were coming up with unusual and highly relevant insights and questions, such as the effects of uneven use of improv strategies within a team, the use of improv communication to approach difficult conversations about race, and the mitigation of destructive manifestations of humor. Wow.
I wish I had written them all down, but I am consoled by the truth I was reminded of tonight: that medical students are the best and brightest, sincere in their efforts to make the world better in large and small ways, and that at this stage in training, they are still pluripotent, making creative connections and insightful observations, open to learning, and intrinsically innovative. I have no doubt that the next time I am lucky enough to work with medical students, they will inspire me all over again.
My experience tonight also reinforced for me the importance of the wellness aspect of improvisation in medicine. As creative as the med students are, they are already starting to show signs of reining back their participation and curbing their creativity because of a budding fear of judgment. They told me so, and I could see it. They and I both wondered: what can be done to prevent the inhibition and fear from taking hold? Before cognitive and creative paralysis set in, near-codified by a culture of fear? The students wondered aloud: If all med students learned improv, could we head off the fear at the pass, prevent it from even getting out of the gates, stop the judgment and fear before it happens?
Could improv proactively shape a cohort of med students to internalize and perpetuate a culture of resilience and support?
These amazing med students want to find out. So do I.