The educational value of improvisational actors to teach communication and relational skills: perspectives of interprofessional learners, faculty, and actors

Patient Educ Couns. 2014 Sep;96(3):381-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2014.07.001. Epub 2014 Jul 14.


Objective: To assess the educational value of improvisational actors in difficult conversation simulations to teach communication and relational skills to interprofessional learners.

Methods: Surveys of 192 interprofessional health care professionals, and 33 teaching faculty, and semi-structured interviews of 10 actors. Descriptive statistics, Fisher's exact test and chi-square test were used for quantitative analyses, and the Crabtree and Miller approach was used for qualitative analyses.

Results: 191/192 (99.5%) interprofessional learners (L), and 31/33 (94%) teaching faculty (F) responded to surveys. All 10/10 actors completed interviews. Nearly all participants found the actors realistic (98%L, 96%F), and valuable to the learning (97%L, 100%F). Most felt that role-play with another clinician would not have been as valuable as learning with actors (80%L, 97%F). There were no statistically significant differences in perceived value between learners who participated in the simulations (47%) versus those who observed (53%), or between doctors, nurses, or psychosocial professionals. Qualitative assessment yielded five actor value themes: Realism, Actor Feedback, Layperson Perspective, Depth of Emotion, and Role of Improvisation in Education. Actors independently identified similar themes as goals of their work.

Conclusions: The value attributed to actors was nearly universal among interprofessional learners and faculty, and independent of enactment participation versus observation. Authenticity, feedback from actors, patient/family perspectives, emotion, and improvisation were key educational elements.

Keywords: Actors; Communication; Education; Interprofessional; Simulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Faculty*
  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Learning
  • Nurses
  • Patient Simulation*
  • Physicians