Using Theater as an Educational Tool for Understanding Medication Experiences From the Patient Perspective

Alina Cernasev, PhD, PharmD, MSc; Sonja Kuftinec, PhD; Ryan Bortz, PharmD; Jon C. Schommer, PhD; Paul L. Ranelli, PhD


Am J Pharm Educ. 2020;84(4):7606 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Objective: To develop a play depicting patients' medication experiences and evaluate its usefulness as an educational tool for improving health care professionals' understanding of medication experiences from the patient perspective.

Methods: An award-winning playwright was recruited to write the script, which was based on 2,178 written comments submitted by respondents to a national consumer survey on patients' medication experience and pharmacist roles. The resulting play, Go Ask Alice, was presented during November 2016 in two Minnesota cities. Attendees were asked to complete a survey before and after the performance and to provide their email address if interested in completing a three-month follow-up survey. The research team conducted descriptive and inductive thematic analyses on the quantitative and qualitative data, respectively.

Results: A total of 225 people viewed the performances, with 161 completing both the pre- and post-intervention surveys and 58 providing feedback three months later. Two themes emerged in the follow-up survey: the play illuminated barriers that patients face when seeking health care services, as well as the major hindrances and other contributors to patients' medication experiences.

Conclusion: Theatrical performance can be an effective educational tool for understanding medication experiences from the patient perspective.


Since its inception in the early 1950s, theater pedagogy has been a useful tool for educating a variety of audiences on an even wider variety of subjects.[1] Variously framed as social theater or applied theater, this mode of performance engages with areas such as health, education, and conflict transformation.[2–4]

In the health care arena, theater has promoted the public health of local communities, simulated patient-provider interaction, and relayed the patient experience to providers.[5–10] Based on keyword searches in relevant databases, the authors found no productions specifically addressing patients' medication experiences. With nearly 70% of Americans taking a prescription medication and the US health care system moving toward a more patient-oriented approach, there is a need for an educational tool for improving health care practitioners' understanding of patients' experiences with their medication.[11–12]

Additionally, we found few studies that used controls to examine the effect of theater on audience attitudes and beliefs. Indeed, most case studies of applied theatre shy away from quantitative assessment.[13] One study, however, assessed the effect of a theater production about intimate partner violence (IPV) on audience perception and knowledge of IPV.[5] Another study reported the effect of showing one-person plays (one play depicted a person with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome [HIV/AIDS], the other depicted an ovarian cancer survivor) to medical students during their clinical training.[14] The intent of the plays was to reinforce the importance of empathizing with a patient. Evaluation results indicated that students seemed to pay strict attention to how the physicians were portrayed in each performance, with many students mentioning the cold, callous nature of some of the physicians' interactions with the patients.

A third production (the one-act play ARDEO) used a similar approach as that used in this project, ie, crafting a play inspired by the stories of health care practitioners and patients.[8] The ARDEO production worked within the frame of narrative medicine, which posits that medical practice is enhanced by attention to the patient's story. Thus, the play veered from a strictly documentary approach to convey the subjective experience of patients. Although the ARDEO production was filmed for future educational use, formal assessment of its impact was not conducted.

With this previous work in mind, the objective of this project was to develop a theater performance depicting patients' medication experiences and evaluate its usefulness as an educational tool for improving health care professionals' understanding of medication experiences from the patient perspective.