Improvisational and Standup Comedy, Graphic Medicine, and Theatre of the Oppressed to Teach Advancing Health Equity

Acad Med. 2022 Dec 1;97(12):1732-1737. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004905. Epub 2022 Nov 23.


Ninety-minute virtual workshops that used improvisational comedy, standup comedy, graphic medicine, and Theatre of the Oppressed were implemented in 2020 within a required health equity course at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine to train 90 first-year medical students in advancing health equity. Learning objectives were to (1) deepen understanding of diverse human experiences by developing relationship skills, such as empathy, active listening, engagement, and observation; (2) recognize how diverse patients perceive students and how students perceive them to gain insight into one's identity and how intersectional systems of oppression can stigmatize and marginalize different identities; and (3) engage in free, frank, fearless, and safe conversations about structural racism, colonialism, White and other social privileges, and systemic factors that lead to health inequities. With a 61% (109/180 [90 students × 2 workshops per student]) survey response rate, 72% of respondents thought workshops were very good or excellent, and 83% agreed or strongly agreed they would recommend workshops to others. Key recommendations are to (1) incorporate experiential storytelling and discussion; (2) define clear learning goals for each workshop, map exercises to these goals, and explain their relevance to students; and (3) create a safe, courageous, brave space for exploration and discussion. For health equity, transformation happens as students share their perspectives of curriculum content from their intersectional identities, experiences, and varied privileges; are challenged by others' perspectives; and attempt to understand how others can experience the same content differently. The arts create a powerful form of sharing beyond routine conversations or discussions, which is critical for honest dialogue on difficult topics, such as racism, homophobia, and White privilege and other social privileges. Educators should enable students to have the space, time, and courage to share their true perspectives and engage in authentic discussions that may be uncomfortable but transformative.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Drama*
  • Empathy
  • Health Equity*
  • Humans
  • Students, Medical*