In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 18, 2016

Theater Group Gives Medical Students New View of Patients With Disabilities

By In the Loop

Johanna Rian's course is all about giving medical students insights into the human element in medicine. If you're like us, you might wonder why someone would bring members of an improvisational theater group to meet with Mayo Medical School students. Thankfully, that someone, Johanna Rian, coordinator of Mayo's Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine, can answer that question. Rian teaches a selective course for medical students called "The Human Element." And last week, she brought a group from the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts to perform for and chat with the students.

Rian's course is all about giving medical students insights into the human element in medicine. "What I'm hoping the students get out of the course is a better understanding of the power of Humanities to directly impact the lives of patients as well as themselves as practitioners," Rian tells us. She helps bring that message to life by bringing in professional artists. "One week it might be music, another it might be visual arts, and another it might be theater," she says.

Last week, it was the Interact theater group from St. Paul, Minnesota. "What's unique about them is that they create original theater performances by using the techniques of improvisation," Rian says. Also unique is that each performer has a disability. Interact’s mission is "to create art that challenges perceptions of disability" and in the process, to open doors "for artists with disabilities … who might never have seen the arts as a life choice, but who now see the arts as essential to their humanity."

Rian tells us she "wanted the medical students to see what's possible by using theater and music for people with all kinds of disabilities," she says. "I also wanted them to understand how impactful this kind of work can be for disabled patients, so that they might then recommend places like Interact as somewhere their patients can go to experience the significant benefits of this kind of work."

After the group performed, medical students talked with the actors about what being part of the group means to them. "They told incredible stories — transformative stories — about how much more capable they feel about being in the world as a result of participating in this program," Rian says. "It was an amazing thing to watch. And it was also amazing to see the medical students receive the information." And the reviews have been exceedingly positive, according to Rian. "Several of the students said things like, 'I can't believe what these people are capable of,'" she says. "They also said, 'This was so entertaining! It was riveting and so deeply emotional.' It was just really good theater."

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Tags: Center for Humanities in Medicine, Employee Stories, Johanna Rian, Medical Education Stories

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