The Sixth International Medical Improv Train-the-Trainer Workshop

Hosted by the Center for Bioethics & Medical Humanities of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Sunday, August 18 - Thursday, August 22, 2019 in downtown Chicago

Registration opens Monday, April 22 at 9am Chicago time
The registration fee is $1,050 ($500 for actors or students who are not funded by their institutions).


2018 Train-the-Trainer Workshop participants and instructors

2018 Train-the-Trainer Workshop participants and instructors

2016 Train-the-Trainer Workshop participants and instructors

2016 Train-the-Trainer Workshop participants and instructors

Improvisational theatre skills have a surprising and substantial overlap with the communication skills required of medical professionals. This insight led Workshop Director & Instructor Katie Watson to create an innovative “medical improv” course at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in 2002, which adapted improvisational theater principles and training techniques to build clinician communication skills with patients and colleagues, and to enhance cognition and teamwork in medicine.

Participants in the 2019 Train-the-Trainer workshop will spend five days in Chicago taking Watson’s 10-hour medical improv course. Improv class size will be small (12–14 students) to allow individual feedback. These groups will come together every day for didactic teaching in which all will learn how to teach Watson's course, and on the last day participants will practice teaching medical improv exercises themselves. Participants will also learn about other adaptations and applications of medical improv for residents and practicing clinicians. Participants will share their own expertise and goals in this area, and receive feedback and support for their future teaching plans. Participants will leave with an introduction to medical improv, a network of potential collaborators, and the skills and knowledge to begin creating a medical improv course that makes sense in the context of their own institutions, audiences, and roles.

(For more information on medical improv at Northwestern see Watson K. Serious Play: Teaching Medical Skills with Improvisational Theater Techniques. Acad Med. 2011;86:1260–1265. link)

Who is eligible to register for this workshop?

This workshop trains people to teach medical improv. It is designed to serve people working in medicine with a variety of backgrounds and medical education or training roles. Examples include:

  • Physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals with limited or no improv experience who want to learn how to teach medical improv with a theater professional as a co-teacher.

  • Improvisers or theater professionals with limited or no medical background who want to learn how to teach medical improv with a medical professional as a co-teacher.

  • Standardized patients who want to learn a medical improv curriculum they could teach by themselves.

  • Physicians and other medical professionals who also have improv experience who want to learn a medical improv curriculum they could teach by themselves.

  • Other professionals working in medical environments with teaching responsibilities, such as those in ethics or the medical humanities.

Note: This workshop is not geared toward for-profit communication consultants. If you fall into this category and are interested in this work or training, email katie watson to discuss the options.

Workshop structure

  1. Experiential Workshop

    • Days 1-4: Workshop participants will take the 5-session (10 hour) “Playing Doctor” medical improv course Prof. Watson created for Northwestern-Feinberg medical students and has taught successfully for over ten years. Each session will be followed by a “how to teach this” debriefing and discussion, and a detailed exercise guide will be handed out.

    • Day 5: Participants will put their new knowledge into practice by teaching medical improv exercises. Your practice teaching will be supervised by the Instructors, and you will receive feedback from your students and the instructor.

  2. Collaboration and Development

    • Expertise Exchanges: One or more sessions will feature short presentations by participants on how they’ve used improv in medical settings, and presentations by the instructors on how they’ve used medical improv in multiple contexts (eg residents/fellows, senior clinicians, interdisciplinary groups, ethics consultants).

    • Future Directions Discussions: There will be ample opportunity for participants to share their own contexts, and to brainstorm how they might modify existing medical improv ideas and practices to fit their own institutions, audiences, and goals.

  3. “Field Research”

    • One evening will be spent seeing a Chicago improv show together.

2019 Instructors

Katie Watson, JD is an Associate Professor of Medical Social Sciences, Medical Education, and Obstetrics & Gynecology at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, where she is an award-winning teacher of bioethics, health law and medical humanities. Professor Watson has been studying and performing improv since 1997, and she joined the faculty of Chicago’s Second City Training Center in 2008. In 2002 she integrated her expertise in medicine and improv to create a 10-hour improv course for Feinberg medical students, which she's been teaching as a selective ever since. In 2011 she originated the term “medical improv” in her Academic Medicine article about her work synthesizing these fields, and in 2013, she taught the nation’s first Medical Improv Train-the-Trainer Workshop. She has presented keynote lectures, Grand Rounds, and workshops on medical improv at venues including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Mayo Clinic Humanities in Medicine Symposium, University of Michigan Pediatrics Department, NMH Surgery Department Faculty Retreat, the Association for Academic Surgery, University of California Irvine School of Nursing & Department of Theater, Brown University Cogut Center Lecture, Brown Emergency Department Faculty Workshop, Kaye Woltman Lectureship at Indiana University School of Nursing, IU-PUI Plater Institute on the Future of Learning, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Neonatology Fellowship Program, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM), the 6th International Conference for Diagnostic Error in Medicine, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Alberta (Canada) Health System Ethics Immersion, and the NMH Ethics Committee Retreat. | Contact:

Belinda Fu, MD is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington, Residency Faculty at Swedish Family Medicine–First Hill, and founder of The Mayutica Institute, an educational training company. She received her BA at Stanford University, her MD from the University of California, San Francisco, and completed her residency and faculty development fellowship at the University of Washington. Dr. Fu performs improv as an active ensemble member of Seattle Theatresports™, A Tribe Called Yes, and The Lost Folio. She speaks and teaches about medical improv, physician wellness, and communication skills at regional and national events, and was an opening plenary speaker at the inaugural 2018 American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Physician Health and Well-being Conference. She has presented keynotes and workshops at events for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), Association of Surgical Educators (ASE), Society of Teachers in Family Medicine (STFM), Generalists in Medical Education, Cleveland Clinic, University of British Columbia, Providence Center for Health Care Ethics, and the California, Washington, and Uniformed Services Academies of Family Physicians (CAFP, WAFP, USAFP). Dr. Fu co-organized the first and second Annual International Medical Improv Train-the-Trainer Workshops, and created, an educational resource about improvisation in medicine. | Contact: | Web:

Dan Sipp

Dan Sipp is a North Carolina native who has worked in the theater as an actor, director and teacher for nearly 30 years and he is the Standardized Patient Training Coordinator for the Duke University’s School of Medicine. He has toured all over the United States, Mexico and Canada and currently performs with his own company, Third Date. In addition to teaching and directing improv for the theater, Dan has led corporate training workshops for Fortune 500 companies, like Rolls-Royce and Google and for NASA. In 2007 he began working at in the Duke University Health System as a Standardized Patient and a volunteer patient advocate, in 2014 he joined the staff of Campbell University’s Osteopathic School of Medicine as the Standardized Patient Program Director, and then he moved to Duke and in 2016 Dan launched the Medical Improv Initiative at Duke with Dr. Ray Barfield. Since then they’ve offered dozens of inter-professional workshops for learners of all levels in the Duke Healthcare System. He’s also collaborated on three projects with Katie and Lauren for the Indiana University Health System. Last August Dan organized the first ever meeting of Medical Improv instructors from institutions around the US at Duke.


Stephanie Anderson is an improviser, writer, teaching artist, and innovative learning consultant in Chicago. She has studied and performed improvisational theater for over a decade, she is a faculty member of the Second City Training Center, and she has led “Playing Doctor” medical improv seminars for medical students of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Prior to moving to Chicago in 2012, she worked as a Child Psychiatric Specialist and Education Coordinator at Children’s National Medical Center (Washington, DC), where she led the development of innovative psycho-educational curricula and therapeutic groups for hospitalized youth in a variety of clinical departments (Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Inpatient/Outpatient) and Hematology/Oncology). Stephanie has presented on group dynamics, therapeutic curriculum design, and the application of improv, storytelling, and performance skills to professionals in business, education, and healthcare at workshops and conferences around the country, including the American Institute of Medical Education and Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. These days, Stephanie utilizes improv in the classroom in her role as an Instructor for the Student Professional Development Program & Institute for Leadership Excellence and Development (iLEAD) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and she coaches MBA students on the application of improv and storytelling in business at the University of Chicago-Booth.


Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine campus is located in the heart of Chicago near the city’s best museums, theaters, and shopping. The address of the classroom building is 340 E Superior St, Chicago, IL 60611.


Chicago is served by two airports, O’Hare and Midway. The airports are on opposite sides of the city (north & south) but each is roughly the same distance from downtown. You can take public transportation downtown (the “el” (elevated) train) from either airport.


The following hotels are within close walking distance of the workshop location. Please be sure to identify yourself as a guest of Northwestern University when booking, and you may receive discounted rates or other offers (like free wifi).

What Participants Say

  • The pace at which we made our way to sophisticated scene work, and then teaching is due to great organization and clear, supportive instruction. (2013)

  • I was so inspired by everyone in our group. Their care, creativity and huge hearts gave me great hope for healthcare and beyond. (2013)

  • Early June was an excellent time [to schedule this]. But quite honestly, I would come on Christmas day or my wedding anniversary for this workshop. (2013)

  • I thought the content and applications were extremely valuable both personally (as a way to enhance my own communication skills) and professionally as a way to move into the field of medical improv. (2014)

  • It was wonderful, exhausting (in a good way), challenging, thought provoking, and fun. (2014)

  • Shared input from attendees coupled with instructor presentation on a scale of 1-10 is a 1000. (2014)

  • I am leaving with an experience I will remember which has provided me with specific skills and which was more fun than my average vacation. … This was one of the top 3 professional development experiences of my career. (2015)

  • Great value considering effort/preparation/length of course and experience of the teachers. (2015)

  • Fantastic. I have never felt so much support in any class. Incredible instructors. (2015)

  • I got a broad range of tools that I can use in a variety of situations from direct patient care to teaching to team building. … An amazing experience – I grew in so many ways! (2015)

  • Surpassed my expectations in content, methodology, professionalism, practicality, inspiration, potential, and vision! (2015)

Tentative Schedule

Day One

12:30-1:00pm – Registration / Check-in
1:00-2:15pm – Welcome; Opening exercises; Orientation
2:30-4:45pm – Medical Improv Class 1: Fundamentals
5:00-6:00pm – Debrief on how to teach class 1
Evening Outing: Dinner and Improv Show (e.g., Second City) – provided

Day Two

8:15-9:00am – Breakfast provided in classroom
9:00-11:15am – Medical Improv Class 2: Character
11:30am-12:15pm – Debrief on how to teach class 2
12:15-1:45pm – Lunch (on your own)
1:45-4:00pm – Medical Improv Class 3: Spontaneity / Multitasking
4:15-5:00pm – Debrief on how to teach class 3
Evening Event: Happy Hour – drinks & snacks provided (6:00-7:30)

Day Three

8:30-9:15am – Breakfast provided in classroom
9:15am-10:00am – Expertise Exchange Part 1 (Participant discussion & demonstration of current educational work)
10:15-12:30pm – Medical Improv Class 4: Emotion; Uncertainty; Clarification
12:30-1:45pm – Lunch (on your own)
1:45-2:30pm – Debrief on how to teach class 4
2:45-4:15pm – Expertise Exchange Part 2
4:15-5:30pm – Applying Medical Improv In Context – Defining Your Goals & Overcoming Your Obstacles (discussion)

Day Four

8:30-9:15am – Breakfast provided in classroom
9:15-11:30am – Medical Improv Class 5: Status, Applications
11:45am-12:30pm – Debrief on how-to-teach class 5
12:30-1:45pm – Lunch (on your own)
1:45-3:00pm – Specialized Applications
3:00-4:30pm–Teaching preparation time (working with your teaching partners)
4:30-6:30pm – Class performance by participants for each other
Evening: free

Day Five

8:30-9:15am – Breakfast provided in classroom
9:15-9:30am– Practice Teaching Orientation/Launch
9:30-11:30am – Participant practice-teaching sessions
11:30-12:30pm – Lunch provided in classroom
12:30-2:30pm – Participant practice-teaching sessions
2:45-4:15pm – Wrap-up; evaluations
4:15pm – Adjourn

Questions? Please email Katie Watson