Marshall Chin, MD, MPH, gained more than he expected when he enrolled in a local improv class. The general internist and health equity advocate at the University of Chicago Medicine not only learned storytelling and comedy techniques, he discovered an innovative way to teach medical students at the Pritzker School of Medicine about advancing health equity.

“As I got more involved in improv, I began to realize that the emotional intelligence and listening skills we were learning really translated well to the day job and could be a potentially very powerful way of teaching about equity,” said Chin, Richard Parrillo Family Distinguished Service Professor of Healthcare Ethics in the Department of Medicine. “Improv and other art forms are good at addressing many of the challenges that we talk to students about at the beginning of the term, like bridging differences in perspectives, creating a safe space and dealing with the grayness and uncertainty of medicine.”

While some medical schools have incorporated improv and other nontraditional methods to teach general listening and people skills, few, if any, have used them specifically to address health equity and issues like power, class and racism, Chin said.

Inspired, Chin gathered a 13-person team of physicians and scientists with skills in medical training, health equity, the arts and/or science communications, as well as entertainers and a program administrator to design and implement workshops. The group represented a diverse set of perspectives, experiences and cultural backgrounds.

The team developed four 90-minute virtual programs that used multiple forms of performance and art to encourage students to explore ways to advance health equity. The team launched a pilot program in 2020 as part of the Pritzker School of Medicine’s health equity requirement for first-year students. Learnings from the course were published as part of an invited commentary in Academic Medicine.


Originally published in The Forefront 11/7/2022