About the Stanford Talk

I took my first Improv Acting class in 2012.  I was lucky to have Matt Smith, one of the great teachers of the form, as my instructor.  I was immediately hooked, not because of ambition to become an Improv performer, but because I wanted to thrive in my professional and personal life.  I discovered what others in the Applied Improv community had already known. 

The Improv principles:

  • Yes And…
  • Make Your Partner look good
  • Fail good naturedly
  • Accept.  Everything you get is a gift.
  • Listen.  Let Your Partner Change you.

were recipes for achieving rewarding connections with people, no matter the circumstances. 

The Improv drills converted these “heady” concepts into real life habits. 

As a result of these acting trainings, I became much more a master clinician than I had been before. 

A second insight from my acting classes was that acting teachers used specific pedagogical techniques that were different, and dare I say it, better, than what I had experienced in my medical trainings. 

In order to help take Applied Performance Practice to my medical colleagues, I learned group facilitation by Partners for Youth Empowerment, and the Thiagi Group; Improv and Meisner based Acting by Freehold Theater in Seattle and Second City in Chicago. I collaborated with Applied Improv professionals Rich Cox and William Hall to organize and teach workshops at the Stanford Center for Immersive Based Learning and Simulation (CISL), the American Association of Medical Colleges annual education meeting, the UCLA Simulation Center, and the International Meeting for Simulation in Healthcare. 

As a result of our workshops at CISL, Dr. David Gaba, Dean of CISL, asked me to give the keynote address the 2014 Stanford Center for Immersive Based Learning and Simulation Annual Symposium. 

“Power Up the Teaching of Communication Skills in Healthcare with Techniques from Theatre and Business.”


My old anesthesiology mentor from residency days, now a Dean at Stanford, introduces me.

Section 1 & 2: (8:36) Why is your Barista a Better Communicator Than Your Doctor?
The challenges of teaching communication skills and why theatre and business curricula succeed.

Section 3: (1:36) The Four Flavors of Communication Education
All communication curricula are a combination of 4 methods: Didactic, Scripts, Role Play/Simulation, Performance.

Section 4: (4:00) Engaging Openings I: Reveals
Taking a group from hesitancy, even apathy, to engagement with easy-to-do classic interactive activities.

Section 5: (4:53) Engaging Openings II: Stretches, Game of Thrones and Other Techniques
Getting a group ready to break away from habits of shyness and holding back to energetic participation with easy-to-do classic interactive activities.

Section 6: (9:54) Improv Theatre and Your Practice
Explanation of how Improv Theatre relates to healthcare and a classic improve theatre exercise you can use in the classroom.

Section 7: (11:47) Make it Count with Focus Points, Practice, and Good Finishes
Techniques to make sure participants take their new insights into their practice. Focus points from the world of sport. Practices from sport and performing arts. And the good finish: how to wrap up your workshop.

Addendum 1 (1:10) The Game of Thrones Warm Up Exercise to Power Up Your students.

Addendum 2: (3:05) The Classic “Yes And…” drill: Remember Mexico

Here’s the quick slideshow version.