Metaphor helps humans understand complex concepts by “mapping” them onto accessible concepts. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of using jazz as a metaphor to teach senior medical students improvisational communication skills, and to understand student learning experiences. The authors designed a month-long course that used jazz to teach improvisational communication. A sample of fourth-year medical students (N
= 30) completed the course between 2011 and 2014. Evaluation consisted of quantitative and qualitative data collected pre- and post-course, with comparison to a concurrent control group on some measures. Measures included: (a) Student self-reports of knowledge and ability performing communicative tasks; (b) blinded standardized patient assessment of students’ adaptability and quality of listening; and (c) qualitative course evaluation data and open-ended interviews with course students. Compared to control students, course students demonstrated statistically significant and educationally meaningful gains in adaptability and listening behaviors. Students’ course experiences suggested that the jazz components led to high engagement and creativity, and provided a model to guide application of improvisational concepts to their own communication behaviors. Metaphor proved to be a powerful tool in this study, partly through enabling increased reflection and decreased resistance to behaviors that, on the surface, tended to run counter to generally accepted norms. The use of jazz as a metaphor to teach improvisational communication warrants further refinement and investigation.
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