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Telling the Patient's Story: using theatre training to improve case presentation skills
  1. Rachel R Hammer1,
  2. Johanna D Rian2,
  3. Jeremy K Gregory3,
  4. J Michael Bostwick4,
  5. Candace Barrett Birk5,
  6. Louise Chalfant5,
  7. Paul D Scanlon6,
  8. Daniel K Hall-Flavin4
  1. 1Mayo Medical School, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  2. 2Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  3. 3Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  4. 4Department of Psychiatry, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  5. 5Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  6. 6Mayo Clinic, Pulmonary & Critical Care, Rochester, Minnesota, USA
  1. Correspondence to Rachel R Hammer, Mayo Medical School, College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Mitchell Student Center, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA; hammer.rachel{at}


A medical student's ability to present a case history is a critical skill that is difficult to teach. Case histories presented without theatrical engagement may fail to catch the attention of their intended recipients. More engaging presentations incorporate ‘stage presence’, eye contact, vocal inflection, interesting detail and succinct, well organised performances. They convey stories effectively without wasting time. To address the didactic challenge for instructing future doctors in how to ‘act’, the Mayo Medical School and The Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine partnered with the Guthrie Theater to pilot the programme ‘Telling the Patient's Story’. Guthrie teaching artists taught storytelling skills to medical students through improvisation, writing, movement and acting exercises. Mayo Clinic doctors participated and provided students with feedback on presentations and stories from their own experiences in patient care. The course's primary objective was to build students' confidence and expertise in storytelling. These skills were then applied to presenting cases and communicating with patients in a fresher, more engaging way. This paper outlines the instructional activities as aligned with course objectives. Progress was tracked by comparing pre-course and post-course surveys from the seven participating students. All agreed that the theatrical techniques were effective teaching methods. Moreover, this project can serve as an innovative model for how arts and humanities professionals can be incorporated for teaching and professional development initiatives at all levels of medical education.

  • Medical humanities
  • theatre
  • medical education
  • improvisation
  • case history presentation

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  • See Editorial, p 3

  • This work was previously presented at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, October 2010, as a poster.

  • Funding Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine, Rochester, MN.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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