But can you Improvise?: Using Improvisation Exercises to Develop and Remediate Communication and Problem Solving Skills in Physial Therapy Students


Physical Therapist’s need for communication skills for unscripted encounters with patients and other health care providers occurs daily when in practice and is one of the essential evaluated elements of success during training, both in the classroom and in clinical experiences. Good communication in this type of encounter requires preparation for unpredictability while maintaining professionalism. Typical curriculum content includes skill preparation, however, affective and communication challenges that are seen on practical examinations during didactic training are often recognized, but difficult to correct with more typical remediation techniques. A novel approach to preparing and enhancing these communication skills for this type of encounter has been shown to be effective in physician and pharmacist training as well as in general student education. The use of improvisational exercises allow an inexpensive and safe environment for students to improve their interprofessional communication skills and may be an effective way to teach emotional presence and practice listening, validating, and efficient clinical reasoning required for excellence in the delivery of health care. Improvisation has been shown to increase self-confidence, spontaneity and freedom of speech in a way that may benefit the physical therapy student that is challenged in these areas.

Methods and/or Description of Project

This interactive session will review the literature currently published regarding the use and benefits of improvisational exercises with students, and introduce a variety of improvisational exercises that might be utilized with a student to enhance communication skill development and/or remediation.


The participant will be able to understand the relationship between communication skills needed by the physical therapy student and the improvisation skills gained through exercises. In addition, the active participation of some of these skills will be experienced and through verbal and non-verbal exercises, learning of the techniques and benefits will imbed into the participants to better enable them to immediately use the techniques with their students as needed.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

The relevance to the theme is founded in the essential need for communication, but the overriding challenge that teaching, improving and remediating this skill is difficult to modify in some very capable academically brilliant students. This creative approach allows for a novel way to strengthening clinical reasoning and interprofessional skills during internships and will provide an additional tool for the CI's, CCCE's and DCE's to work on these skills.


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Exercises to Improve Pharmacy Students’ Professional Communication Skills.
American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 73(2).
Guirguis, L., (2011). Improvisation Games in a Pharmacy Communications Course: “It was
kind of interesting to get to step out of my science-oriented mind and get to be
creative!”. Pharmacy Education, 11(1): 201-204.
Hoffman, A., Utley, B., & Ciccarone, D. (2008). Improving Medical Student Communications
Skills Through Improvisational Theatre. Med Educ, 35:225-231.
Kobayashi, D. (2013). Improving Students’ Conversational Competence with the Rules of
Improvisation. The 2013 PanSIG Conference Proceedings. 165-170
MacDonald, L.J., Solem, A., & Segarra, V.A. (2016). Using the Improvisational “Yes, and…”
Approach as a Review Technique in the Student-Centered Biology Classroom.
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Complete Collection. Paper 356.
Shochet, R., King, J., Levine R., Clever S., & Wright, S. (2013). “Thinking on My Feet”: An
Improvisation Course to Enhance Students’ Confidence and Responsiveness in the
Medical Interview. Education for Primary Care, 24:119-24.
Watson, K. (2011). Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills with Improvisational Theater
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Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course the attendee will be able to:
1. Identify the similarities between health care-client interactions and the skill of improvisation.
2. Understand the purpose, principles and benefits of improvisation and how it relates to a physical therapist practicing in an interprofessional health care delivery system.
3. Learn and engage in several standard improvisational exercises designed to expose participants to the need for awareness of body language, verbal and non-verbal cues, and creativity during real time communication.
4. Be exposed to a novel technique that is typically non-scripted and allows for critical thinking and complex reasoning, essential for a physical therapist.
5. Demonstrate and evaluate interactive and experiential learning activities that utilize an innovative approach to communication training that does not include memorization and regurgitation.
6. Discuss the activities and engaging active strategies while self-reflecting on how these techniques might be utilized in participants own programs to assist students requiring remediation.

Instructional Methods

Lecture and Lab

Tentative Outline/Schedule

15 mins: History and principles of improvisation as a teaching and learning tool in healthcare education and general education curriculum.
10 mins: Compare and contrast benefits of improvisation in a health care delivery model specific to physical therapy student challenges.
20 min: Description of Improvisational exercise #1 with interactive practice with self-reflection and group discussion.
20 mins: Description of Improvisational exercise #2 with interactive practice with self-reflection and group discussion.
20 min Description of Improvisational exercise #3 with interactive practice with self-reflection and group discussion.
5 min: Final thoughts/Questions

BACK to Abstract Results

  • Control #: 2751069
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Janet Konecne
  • Keywords:

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