Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using Theater to Increase Empathy Training in Medical Students

Published Web Location

Abstract: Developing and nurturing empathy in medical trainees has been recognized as an essential element of medical education. Theater may be a unique instructional modality to increase empathy training.

Methods: A multi-disciplinary team developed a theater workshop for first year medical students.  Through the use of theater games, art images and reflective writing, the workshop was designed to enable students to: 1) consider the concept of empathy within the context of theater; 2) experience art, theater and narrative as reflective tools to build empathy /self-reflection. The workshop was evaluated by students through a written questionnaire. It was evaluated by faculty and actors though narrative dialogue. The faculty and actors shared their perceptions about 1) students’ ability to demonstrate empathy through a written narrative based on an art image;  2) students’ use of reflection as part of empathy awareness; 3) students’ ability to demonstrate awareness of body language and emotion as diagnostic and clinical tools. The student questionnaire surveyed the 1) overall quality of the session; 2) ability of the session to help students understand the importance of body language in the doctor-patient relationship; 3) the effectiveness of actors in stimulating discussion about empathy, body language and communication in the doctor-patient relationship.

Results: A description of the workshop’s content is described at length. Medical faculty and actors’ narrative comments reflect their positive perceptions of the workshop’s ability to promote empathy through the use of theater /narrative. Medical students evaluated, with less enthusiasm, the effectiveness of the actors in stimulating discussion on the role of empathy, body language and communication.

Discussion: The workshop provided an innovative method to foster empathy in medical students.  Faculty and actors’ narrative comments were positive overall, as they commented on the importance of helping learners build skills in self-reflection and empathic communication. Mixed student feedback indicates the challenges in teaching clinical empathy and the diversity of students’ personalities and learning styles. Inadequate faculty development and the number of activities included in the session may have contributed to the discrepancy between faculty and student perceptions of the workshop.




Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View