Interdisciplinary Role Play: Nursing and Theater Students Advance Skills in Communication

By Reams, Susan; Bashford, Carol | Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Interdisciplinary Role Play: Nursing and Theater Students Advance Skills in Communication


Reams, Susan, Bashford, Carol, Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin


This article describes the collaboration of nursing and theater faculty to create an experiential learning activity to benefit students in both disciplines. Nursing students interviewed theater students acting as patients. A significant number of nursing students reported an increased level of confidence in approaching their first real patient as a result of participating in the theater-student interview activity. Theater students had the unique opportunity to use improvisation as a dramatic technique. This learning activity demonstrates how disciplines can interact to provide a framework for students to learn in a reflective manner.

Communication skills are imperative in today's complex world. This is particularly true in disciplines that rely heavily on the processing of exchanges of information. For example, the disciplines of nursing and theater share an emphasis on oral and nonverbal performance. Communication skills are among the numerous clinical decision-making skills of a registered nurse (Standing, 2007). Nursing and theater faculty at a public university in Ohio identified the need to revise their pedagogical approach to facilitate learning to close the gaps in discipline-specific communication skills. In an attempt to enhance nursing students' confidence with their first patient interview, the authors collaborated with theater faculty to create a mutually beneficial, interdisciplinary learning activity.

Kleehammer, Hart, and Keck (1990) acknowledged that nursing faculty found beginning nursing students were anxious about what would happen when they approached a patient for the first time. Current teaching practices did not help students achieve sufficient self-confidence with communication and knowledge. Concerned about student levels of anxiety, the authors set out to design a new learning activity.

Knowing how to interview is the result of building a framework for organizing the interview questions and of developing spontaneous, clinical- decision-making skills as the health history process is adapted based on patient responses. Strategies that involved nursing students in practicing interview skills with one another allowed students to review content but did not develop confidence and knowledge of the interviewing process. When nursing students interviewed one another - one as the patient and the other as the nurse - they unconsciously provided cues or assisted their peer in a knowing way. Faculty observed nursing students were able to collect basic demographic information but had difficulty regarding more personalized information. Students struggled with how to phrase questions in sensitive areas such as spirituality or sexuality Students also reported uncertainty as to how they might be perceived by the patient.

At the same time, theater faculty identified difficulties for nontraditional students on regional campuses.The typical outlet of a university theatrical performance required evening hours, extensive set preparation, and rehearsals requiring substantial human and financial resources and thus posed significant challenges. The theater faculty sought advanced opportunities for theater students to develop improvisational skills in a practical manner during class hours. Ultimately, the interdisciplinary goal for this project was that both nursing and theater students would benefit from communicating and interpreting verbal and nonverbal responses from each other in a controlled imitation set in a convincingly real environment.

Literature Review

Freshwater and Stickley (2003) proposed that emotionally intelligent curricula in nursing include strategies such as supportive supervision and mentorship, opportunities for working creatively with the arts and humanities, and a focus on development of self and diagnostic relationships. In line with this thinking, nursing faculty should strive to create learning experiences that help create a foundation of skills and confidence (Sprengel, 2004). …

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