Medical improv adapts improv theatre exercises by adding medical elements to the exercise and/or the post-exercise discussion. There is no existing collection of "pure" medical improv exercises – yet! In the meantime, here are some sample exercises to get your creative juices flowing. Check out our blog for medical improv exercises being used by your colleagues.

Status Cards

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Instructions – Participants are given a random playing card; the number on the card indicates their social status. The participants hold their card against their forehead, facing outward such that everyone can see everyone else's card, but not their own. Everyone then mingles as though they are at a social event. At the end of a few minutes, participants must arrange themselves in order of their self-perceived status, based on the way in which others behaved toward them.

Debrief – Participants discuss cues and clues that led them to interpret their status, their reactions to the behaviors they experienced, and the relevance of such behaviors to interactions in their own lives, including interactions with patients and colleagues. 

Skills  Perception & expression of cues (verbal and non-verbal), awareness of power dynamics

Sources – Matt Smith; Rebecca Stockley; Unexpected Productions

'Yes, and' Circle

Photo by Susan Chiang/iStock / Getty Images

Instructions – Participants stand in a circle. One person starts by saying "Let's have a party!" to to the person standing next to her. That person responds by making a statement that adds a new element to the event, beginning with the phrase “Yes, and” (eg. “Yes! And we’ll have a piñata!”) Each subsequent person in the circle follows suit with another “Yes, and” statement that adds to the event.  

Debrief – Participants identify their individual and collective behavioral tendencies toward agreement or disagreement, careful listening, ability to connect ideas in a logical manner, hesitation, support or judgment of others’ ideas, and spontaneity. Participants consider the impact of such behaviors on teamwork and patient counseling.

Skills – Listening, validation, support, spontaneity, connection, narrative.

Sources – Unexpected Productions, Matt Smith, Rebecca Stockley, Keith Johnstone

Time Traveler (aka 'Rip van Winkle')

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Instructions – Participants work in pairs; one partner is designated the role of a “time traveler” from a few hundred years ago who has suddenly arrived in the present time. The other partner must help the time traveler by explaining current technology (eg jet planes, microwaves, CT scan) in terms that the time traveler can understand.

Debrief – Participants discuss the ability to reframe concepts in creative and effective ways, developing a broader range of expressive strategies such as the use of plain language, analogy, and metaphor. Participants also reflect upon their ability to assess other people’s comprehension. Participants discuss the relevance of these skills in situations such as explaining treatments and tests to patients without the use of jargon.

Skills – Reading cues of comprehension; speaking with clarity, use of analogy, ability to simplify, synthesize, and summarize.

Sources – Dan Sipp, Kat Koppett

Shared Knowledge

Improv games evolve constantly; often the same game is known by different names, or has many variations. It's difficult to trace who created each exercise; as a result, improv exercises are part of a shared collective of knowledge. We support our colleagues and community by giving recognition to the person or group who created each particular game, and/or the source from whom we learned it.


Here are a few great collections of improv exercises that are eager to be adapted to the medical context: