For 15 weeks, medical students, doctors and other health care professionals of Thomas Jefferson University met weekly for a theater class. Elana Gordon of WHYY spoke with the creator and members of the class regarding their experiences and the class goals.
Dr. Salvatore Mangione, Associate Professor and Course Director, Physical Diagnosis, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, is a self-proclaimed theater fanatic and the architect of the program. His goal was to give students an outlet — a place to nurture, feed and work the creative parts of the brain as well as expand students’ emotional intelligence. Dr. Mangione also wanted to see if having a creative outlet, like a theater class, could help avoid burn out and loss of empathy in medical students and health professionals. Dr. Mangione explained that burnout is a major problem for physicians, the profession with the highest suicide rate.
Twenty seven participants signed up for the theater class and met every week for two and a half hours. During that time, they participated in theater activities, wrote plays and eventually, performed the short plays they had written.
Craig Getting, artistic and administrative associate with Lantern Theater Company, led the class. He said, “We invited the participants to tell their own stories. We prompted them to write scenes about something they felt was otherwise going unsaid, and the broad range of short plays we received explored a wide range of human experience.”
The performances, followed by a panel discussion, took place Sunday, May 3 in Thomas Jefferson University’s College Building. Professional actors and class participants performed six plays, each around 10 minutes in length. They covered topics from medical school stress to ethical dilemmas faced in the health care industry.
“We hope this program can become a permanent component of our curriculum,” Dr. Mangione explains.
The class “developed an emotional intimacy that would never have happened otherwise in the usually reserved professional medical environment,” said one of the students. Although the process required participants to come out of their comfort zone, it also gave the players, a new perspective on how to see their co-workers, fellow students and patients.