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All the world's a stage: the use of theatrical performance in medical education


Johanna Shapiro PhD, Department of Family Medicine, UC Irvine Medical Center, 101 City Drive South, Rte 81, Bldg 200 Ste 512, Orange, California 92868, USA. Tel.: 00 1 949 824 3748; Fax: 00 1 714 456 7984; E-mail:


Purpose  Student exposure to illness-related theatrical performances holds intriguing educational possibilities. This project explored uses of theatrical performance within the context of medical education.

Method  Two 1-person shows, dramatically addressing AIDS and ovarian cancer, were presented to audiences totalling approximately 150 medical students, faculty, community doctors, staff and patients.

Results  Evaluations for both performances indicated increased understanding of the illness experience and greater empathy for patients. They also showed that respondents obtained additional insights into patient care issues, and developed new ways of thinking about their situations.

Conclusions  Presenting illness-related dramatic performances as an adjunct method of enhancing empathy and insight toward patients in a self-selected group of students, doctors, staff and patients was successful. Although this approach might not be effective with all learners, those who participated felt they gained important insights into the nature of the patient experience.