When you think of medicine, the performing arts may not be the first thing you’d think of in a game of word association. But to Aaron Anderson, associate chair in the Department of Theatre and affiliate faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine, he found a connection between the two that begin the basis of his research endeavors.

Anderson is the founding director of VCU’s Standardized Patient Program, a joint venture between the School of the Arts and the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety that provides training in communication and clinical empathy to healthcare professionals. Traditionally, medical students’ first interactions with patients occur when they begin training in the hospital’s different units with faculty physicians. But this program allows students to practice complex skills in simulated environments with actors trained to behave as patients or healthcare workers. Active role-playing provides feedback so that students can practice a range of skills such as taking a patient’s history, performing physical examinations and working on interprofessional teams.

“What I enjoy most about the Arts-Health collaborations I participate in is that they start on either side of the aestheticpractical scale and move back and forth powerfully. For instance, you need to understand the aesthetics of performance to train in acting, but you can also use those same skills to perform the role of standardized patient to train physicians practically. For me, this movement between fields is arts research at its best.” – Aaron Anderson, PhD, pictured above (Photography by Terry Brown)

Anderson specializes in qualitative and mixed-method research design, pedagogy and curriculum design, theories of the body and methods of movement analysis. He is a recognized expert on the use of theatre training and performance studies in applied social science and has designed the curricula for several national and international teacher certification programs. He has also conducted pioneering research in the field of healthcare communication by applying theatre techniques to medical and nursing education to improve the patient experience.

To read more about Aaron Anderson and his work on the Standardized Patient Program, head over to our publication “Arts + Design Research at the University of Yes.”


July 15, 2015