POSITIVELY THE HEARTLAND: Local doctor uses improv to better bedside manner

Posted at 8:12 AM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 09:12:27-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Michael Smith is a doctor, teacher and lover of improv. He began taking improv classes for fun several years ago, but has since learned creative storytelling techniques can be taken offstage and into the exam room.

“People aren’t really going to change unless they’re actually listened to,” Smith said. “It's a lot of the concepts we practice.”

After having five cancer diagnoses in his family, he learned firsthand how communication can impact patients and families.

“I found myself on the opposite side of healthcare, much more than I’d ever experienced,” Smith said. "So I saw well-intentioned, very smart, very kind healthcare members cause harm to my family.”

This is when he learned that some of the skills he had picked up in improv class could be translated into bedside manner.

“I became a lot better listener.”

Now he’s teaching other healthcare workers how to really listen and add to the conversation in a meaningful way.

“A big rule that a lot of people know of in improv is 'yes, and',” Smith said. “And just what does that mean for dealing with patients, colleagues and agreeing with people’s reality so you can get on the same page.”

Smith teaches a healthcare-focused, two-hour course for UNMC and UNO staff and students.

He also teaches an introductory improv class at the Backline.

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