The Arts and Sciences Working Together

I watch a lot of medical shows. Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, ScrubsMercy… I know this isn’t what real hospitals are like, but I can’t help it: I’m addicted. I treat this obsession with the fictionalized medical world with a healthy dose of reading about the real life experience of being a doctor. If you share this addiction of mine, I cannot praise Atul Gawande’s books enough. But that’s another post entirely…

But for all of my fascination with the world of medicine, I know I could never be a doctor. I never loved my science classes in high school or college, so how would I possibly muster the stamina required for medical school?

You can imagine my excitement when a group of Brown University MD Fellows approached Trinity Rep’s education department this fall about starting up a theater class once a month. In addition to creating an opportunity for the doctors to socialize and bond (they used to have a volleyball team), our contact at Brown cited a recent study linking good bedside manner with doctors who have had theater training.

Our education director ran the classes for the doctors, and I got to help her brainstorm with lesson planning and sit in on a few hours of class. One class we got to talking about how the class has helped them in their medical careers so far. I was literally on the edge of my seat listening to the admiration and appreciation for acting pour out of this group of doctors. Many of them marveled at an actor’s ability to say the same words eight times a week as though it were the first time. Specifically they were fascinated by an actor’s ability to invest emotionally in the moment on stage, but not carry those heavy emotions home with them at the end of the night. As doctors, they often have to deliver bad news to patients (many of the individuals in the class are oncologists), and they want to be empathetic, without over-investing emotionally.

I know theater is important. I know the arts have the power to change lives for the better. I’ve experienced it myself and seen it happen for my students. But to hear a room of medical professionals talk about how a monthly acting class has changed their lives was astounding to me. When I was in that class with them, I was stifling the impulse to ask a million questions about what its really like to be a doctor, and how they manage such a demanding job day in and day out. But to hear them speak the same way about the impressive attributes of theater and being an actor was so surprisingly gratifying.

No matter what your profession, the moments of re-realizing “this is why I do it” should be celebrated.

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