How Improv Comedy Can Improve Patient Interaction

My last semester of undergrad I was already accepted to PT school and needed to fill my schedule with enough classes so that I was still considered a full-time student. The class I ended up taking was Improv comedy. At the time, I thought this class was going to be the least important class I would be taking when it came to relating to my future profession. Well, two years later I can tell you it was probably the most important. 

In PT school I have continued to take improv classes with a local improv theater and even perform with a group of friends about once a month. As I have continued to take classes, I realize more and more how the skills I learn, help me when interacting with patients in the clinic.

Below are five ways Improv Comedy has helped me improve my interactions and patient care:


1. Listen, Listen, Listen

One of the first things you learn in improv is the importance of listening to your scene partner. You are making up a scene on the fly, and if you are not listening, the scene will go nowhere and the audience will notice. In PT school the same things are learned but not always practiced. Being able to practice this on a regular basis with improv has made me better in the clinic. And just like the audience and your scene partner, the patients will know when you are not listening and your relationship and rapport with go nowhere.

2. Find the unusual/ interesting thing

In some improv training you may be told to try to find the unusual or interesting thing in the scene and then heighten that to make the scene funny. In improv this is called the game of the scene. I personally use this alot when interacting with patients in clinic. When doing an evaluation or treatment I may ask the patient questions about themselves and what they enjoy. I try to listen to that one thing that they seem to have an exceptional interest in. They may begin to talk more or even perk up a little when talking.  When there is an awkward lull in conversation I will try to bring up that one thing that I noticed earlier on. I have found this to be a useful trick during my part-time clinical. Also, this reassures the patient that you were listening to what they were saying. 

3. Silence is Okay

Although I just gave an example above on a way to be able to avoid awkward silences, I think it is important to understand that silence can be okay. In improv many people including me have a tendency to want to talk the moment my scene partner stops talking. As you get better with improv you learn that silence can be a great tool in a scene. One of my improv teachers would make us starts scenes without talking for 30 seconds while performing a task. While in that scene the 30 seconds felt like forever, but as an audience member there was nothing weird about it. Sometimes patients rather not talk, or that awkward silence is only in your head. I try to remember this when Ifeel like I am talking to much or when i get a sense the patient may just want to sit in silence for a bit. Depending on your patients’ occupation, they might not have to converse for a good portion of the day. So, although it may feel weird to you, it does not always feel weird to your patient.

4. Be Adaptable 

You never know what exactly is going to happen in an improv scene, so you must be able to react and respond to any situation. In clinic, there are times when a patient may not react the way you had thought. Additionally, there may be instances where a patient does not show up on time, or a new patient's evaluation was put on your already full schedule. In these situations, it is important to be able to adapt. In improv more often than not your partner might take the scene in a different direction than you had initially intended. Improv has taught me how to quickly react to new situations without getting stressed or flustered. Being adaptable is a great skill to have and is something you can work on by doing improv.

 5. Take risks and Failure is okay

 As a student when my CI asks me to do something, I always want to do it perfectly. Sometimes it is hard to remember that I am  just a student and I am going to make mistakes, and sometimes even fail. Improv is all about taking risks. Some risk will pay off while others will not. For those risks that do not pay off it is important to shake it off go back out and take another risk.  I can relate this most to the times when I get nervous about trying something new in my part-time clinical rotation. Trying something new in clinic is a risk because we have yet to have the experience that our CI’s have, and that can be intimidating. However, the only way to become better is if you learn from your mistake and try that new technique again.  Improv has helped me embrace taking risk and not dwelling on failure. As a SPT  I have my CI there to back me up, and in improv I have my troupe mates. As a future clinician I hope to have to support of my coworkers, and even sometimes my patients.


 Patient interaction is not always easy and is something you have to continuously work on.  Improv comedy is a great way to improve your skills while having fun while doing it. Now only if I could use these skills effectively on practical exams….

Logan Buckley, SPT