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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / September 2022 / UR CTSI Supports Program Using Improv to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

UR CTSI Supports Program Using Improv to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

candid photo of a hybrid session of the Theater for Vaccine Hesitancy shows health care workers seated around a large conference table, wearing masks and facing the front of the room where John Cullen, Ph.D., is speaking in front of a large screen showing remote participants.As we head into our third fall of the COVID pandemic, nearly one-third of the U.S. population is still not fully vaccinated, likely due in part to vaccine hesitancy. An Arts and Medicine article published in JAMA today describes a UR CTSI-supported program that turned to improv theater for help addressing vaccine hesitancy.

The program, called the Theater for Vaccine Hesitancy, combined improv theater techniques with coaching in Self Determination Theory to help health care workers navigate sensitive conversations with vaccine hesitant patients. Nearly 80 percent of health care workers who participated in the program reported feeling more confident and able to improve their conversations with patients, and nearly 30 percent believed their patients got the COVID vaccine as a result of their change in conversational approach.

The program, which was part of the CDC-funded Finger Lakes Rural Immunization Initiative, was led in part by John Cullen, Ph.D., professor and director of Diversity and Inclusion at the UR CTSI. It was Cullen’s idea to employ techniques from Theatre of the Oppressed, an improvisational theater program developed in the 1970’s that was introduced to URMC in 2017 by the Department of Health Humanities and Bioethics.

“We knew that Theatre of the Oppressed was an extremely effective tool for practicing challenging conversations with patients so we adapted it to help individuals engage in conversations about COVID vaccinations,” said Cullen, who was lead author of the JAMA article.

Cullen and JAMA article co-author Holly Ann Russell, M.D., were also part of a team that recently laid out practical tips to help primary care physicians address vaccine hesitancy with their patients in a Journal of Family Practice review.

Learn more in the URMC Newsroom.

Michael Hazard | 9/1/2022

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