Grace Under Pressure: a drama-based approach to tackling mistreatment of medical students

05 July 2021

A positive and respectful learning environment is fundamental to the development of professional identities in healthcare. Yet medical students report poor behaviour from healthcare professionals that contradict professionalism teaching. An interdisciplinary group designed and implemented a drama-based workshop series, based on applied theatre techniques, to help students develop positive professional qualities and interpersonal skills to deal with challenges in the healthcare setting. We piloted the workshops at the University of Sydney in 2015. Attendees completed evaluation questionnaires and participated in a focus group or interview. Of 30 workshop attendances, there were 29 completed questionnaires and three participants attended a focus group or interview. Workshop activities were rated as ‘very good’ or ‘good’ by 21/22; (95.5%). Thematic analysis of qualitative data highlighted the rationale for participation (to deal with bullying, prevent becoming a bully, learn social skills), workshop benefits (express emotions, learn about status dynamics and deconstructing personalities, empathy, fun), challenges (meeting participants’ expectations, participants’ need for further practice), and implications for medical education (need to develop awareness of others’ perspectives). Our research has shown that there is momentum to challenge mistreatment in medical education. While a multipronged approach is needed to generate systemic change, this pilot offers a positive and creative innovation. It helps students improve their interpersonal skills and sense of self to deal with challenges in the healthcare setting, including mistreatment.