Man and woman standing in front of a huge presentation screen leading a class
Allan Carlsen, director of Healthcare Theatre (left), and Heather Mekulski, Healthcare Theatre program manager (right), lead a presentation introducing institutions to the University of Delaware's Healthcare Theatre program throughout the tri-state area.

Theatre empowers health sciences

October 16, 2023 Written by Colin Heffinger | Photos by Colin Heffinger and Sanjay Pelinski

A collaboration between the College of Health Sciences and College of Arts and Sciences is inspiring healthcare students through the power of theatre at the University of Delaware and surrounding institutions across the tri-state area.

Started in 2009 by Allan Carlsen and Amy Cowperthwait, the Healthcare Theatre program helps students become more confident, effective, and empathetic communicators. Students train in an environment that enhances professional interactions with patients, healthcare staff, and even the patient’s support group, providing real-time opportunities to implement communication best practices throughout the healthcare field.

“Healthcare Theatre is a unique and transformative program,” said Carlsen, Healthcare Theatre director. “It’s changing the way future and current health care providers are trained to enhance their medical and communication skills by providing an effective approach in learning how to interact in a healthcare environment.”

Over 2023’s summer semester, the Healthcare Theatre team visited organizations such as Coppin State University and the Cooper Medical School at Rowan University to present an interactive demonstration for faculty and students. The presentation was designed not only to teach communication skills in a healthcare setting, but also showcase the groundwork for schools to develop their own version of the program.

“One of the strongest assets of Healthcare Theatre is our ability to bring the program and our performers anywhere,” explained Heather Mekulski, program manager for Healthcare Theatre. “We bring interpersonal education on the road, which allows us to reach a larger breadth of learners and strengthen our community partnerships."

A man and woman stand around a man posing as a patient in a hospital bed
From left to right: Allan Carlsen, Healthcare Theatre director, Javonte Perry, Healthcare Theatre program coordinator, and Heather Mekulski, Healthcare Theatre program manager.

At Coppin State University, Healthcare Theatre was a keynote presenter for the Maryland Community & College Simulation User Network (MCCSUN) Quest for Excellence Conference, an annual two-day event showcasing innovative simulation techniques and technologies. The presentation introduced an overview of the program’s unique offerings and invited faculty in the audience to actively participate in a simulation as healthcare providers, while Healthcare Theatre performers portrayed a patient visiting the ER for severe intestinal blockage and the patient’s overprotective partner.

Healthcare Theatre led another presentation at Cooper Medical School as part of the MEDacademy program, which allows high school students attend interactive demonstrations, lectures, and simulations. During their visit, the Healthcare Theatre team simulated interactions with wearable technology such as the AvTrach, a tool that lets healthcare students practice a variety of medical skills such as suctioning and cleaning a tracheostomy.

A man stands speaking and surrounded in a class full of healthcare students
The Healthcare Theatre team visited Cooper Medical School to lead a presentation which included simulated interactions with wearable technology such as the AvTrach, a tool allowing practice of a variety of medical skills involved in a tracheostomy.

One of the features that makes Healthcare Theatre unique is their most recently created teaching strategy, the Master Class FreezeFrame. Used in all their visits this year, the Master Class FreezeFrame allows pausing the simulation at any time. This creates a safe environment where students can try different communication approaches for the same scenario and receive peer feedback in real time.

Javonte Perry, Healthcare Theatre’s program coordinator, reflected on the program’s value to all learners involved and how they can expect to gain insight into the healthcare world. “Healthcare Theatre students will be able to practice communication skills while challenging themselves by stepping in as the role of a patient or provider in these simulations,” Perry stated. “This is a great academic benefit for anyone considering to explore Healthcare Theatre.”

The Healthcare Theatre team most recently presented at the Philadelphia Area Simulation Consortium on October 10th, hosted at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. 

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