Transforming physiology tutorials for medical students through transdisciplinary collaboration with drama studies; taking the physiology tutorial from the page to real life

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


There has been a recent drive from the General Medical Council to embed what have hitherto been known as “soft” skills of communication and empathy more deeply within curricula. In the 2018 “Outcomes for Graduates” document, these are cited in the “communication and interpersonal skills” section where “sharing”, “empathy” and “compassion” are referenced (General Medical Council, 2018). This drive is reflected in the medical education literature where replacing the terms “non-technical skills” with “behavioural” skills has been advocated (Nestel et al. 2011). Behavioral skills training underlies recent work from Queens University Belfast involving drama and final year medicine students during which they collaborate in realistic and emotionally charged simulations of doctor patient interactions (Walsh & Murphy, 2017). This received positive feedback from both cohorts and improved clinical team performance scores. We adapted this transdisciplinary, high-fidelity simulation approach to second year physiology tutorials. These lend themselves well to the application of basic science skills to clinical (and in this case behavioural) contexts (Michael, 2006). Benefits are manifold: emphasising the holistic importance of physiology to patient care, while also embedding “human factors” skills throughout the entire medical curriculum. To prepare, academics and students of the 2nd year medical physiology module attended acting classes based on aspects of Konstantin Stanislavski’s “System” (Stanislavski & Benedetti, 2016) as part of a “Healtheatre” club. This culminated in March 2019 when drama students participated in a “physiology of hypofertility” tutorial, playing a 34 year old woman with premature menopause. The drama students analysed the data and details of the clinical scenario to develop the “given circumstances” of the role, enabling them to effectively become the female in the scenario. There were two drama students for every group of 23 medical students. Debriefing sessions were held afterwards, and all involved were invited to email their impressions to the module coordinator.Drama students noted the medical students’ professionalism at all times, a difficulty with “personal” terms and their struggle to balance truth-telling and compassion in the tough diagnosis. Medical students gave mixed responses, some deeming the tutorial more engaging, authentic and unpredictable than even general practice family attachments with genuine but “ideal” patients. Others felt, however, that it encroached on “real” science skills. Academics also highlighted efforts to be factual but compassionate among medical students and noted the awkwardness they had with the more “personal” interactions. All emphasized the need for more academic scaffolding and preparation for the tutorial, along with a desire for more drama students.These are considerations that will factor in ongoing collaborations between Drama Studies and Physiology that will continue next year.General Medical Council (2018). In Outcomes for Graduates 2018 London: General Medical Council. Michael, J. (2006). Where’s the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education 30, 159-167Nestel, D., Walker, K., Simon, R. Aggarawal, R. & Andreatta, P (2011). Nontechnical skills: An inaccurate and unhelpful descriptor? Simulation in Healthcare 6 (1), 2-3Stanislavski, K. & Benedetti, J. (2016). In An Actor’s Work, 1st ed.; Oxon, NY, USA: Routledge.Walsh, I. & Murphy, P. (2017). Healtheatre: Drama and medicine in concert Healthcare 5, 37-43The authors acknowledge the contribution of Ms. Rosie Pelan of QUB Drama Department to the drama training of staff and students
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
EventPhysiology 2019; Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre: Main meeting of the Physiological Society, - Aberdeen Exhibitioin and Conference Centre, Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Duration: 07 Jul 201910 Jul 2019


ConferencePhysiology 2019; Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre
Abbreviated titlePhysiology 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Medical education
  • Physiology Education
  • Teaching
  • Active learning
  • Tutorial
  • Simulation


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