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Interactive theatre production allows med students to practice compassionate care for cancer patients

No one wants to hear that they've been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness. Since a diagnosis, such as breast cancer, can be hard for a patient to swallow, it's important for their doctor to sandwich the news between a good measure of tact and empathy. This weekend, a Medical Daily story described a novel way that medical students at the University of Missouri are learning to master the recipe for providing compassionate care.

As the article describes, the MU Theatre Department and School of Medicine teamed up to present a series of three five-minute plays, called the "Breast Cancer Dialogues." These plays portray interactions between women recently diagnosed with breast cancer and their medical providers. The interesting twist is that the audience of first-year medical and nursing students can stop the play at any time to rewrite the dialogue in a more compassionate, or direct way.

From a university press release:

"Theater is a wonderful means to understand the complexities of life,” says University of Missouri Extension community arts specialist Lee Ann Woolery.


Heather Carver, PhD, MU associate professor of playwriting and performance studies, wrote the initial script after learning she had breast cancer in 2005. Carver created one-woman shows about her experience and later wrote a script for the MU Interactive Theatre Troupe to encourage health professionals to show compassion and empathy toward patients.


Rachel Bauer, Interactive Theatre Troupe coordinator for “Breast Cancer Dialogues,” said medical students get valuable practice as they assume the roles of doctor and patient in the five-minute scenes. “It gives them an understanding of what patients and doctors are going through, and how to make those dialogues more fruitful,” she said.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz. 

Previously: Communicating with terminally ill patients: A physician’s perspectiveRed Sunshine: One doctor’s journey surviving stage 3 breast cancerWhen the journalist becomes the patientYoung, single, dating – and a breast-cancer survivor and Unique challenges face young women with breast cancer

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