Interview: The role of humour in the GP consultation

Belfast GP Dr Waqar Ahmed explains how improvisational theatre techniques have helped him become a better doctor.

Dr Waqar Ahmed
Dr Waqar Ahmed

There are few GPs who would cite their experience of performing in the comedy clubs of Belfast as having made them a better doctor.

But Dr Waqar Ahmed will be appearing at the RCGP Annual Conference this week to explain how learning improvisational theatre techniques can help deliver more effective consultations for GPs and their patients.

The Belfast locum GP had always wanted to be a stand-up comedian and in 2012, enrolled for evening classes to develop his skills.

‘When I started improv classes, I suddenly felt that I was becoming a more effective GP locum. I was enjoying my work a lot more and I also found that patients seemed to be enjoying my consultations.

‘I began to wonder whether these classes were actually making a better doctor of me.’
He has since travelled to Chicago twice a year for specific improv training in the city that is known as the world centre of improvisational theatre.

Dr Ahmed will be joined by leading author on GP communication skills Dr Roger Neighbour, a former president of the RCGP. Dr Ahmed says the use of improv techniques ‘dovetails quite nicely’ with the consultation model developed by Dr Neighbour.

‘We are not really telling jokes or encouraging people to tell jokes, it’s the application of a certain skill set.

‘My job in an improvised drama scene would be about making everything as easy as possible for my partner, and that’s how it translates into a consultation with a patient.

‘This is a really useful set of skills for listening and following the patient’s narrative, and adding to that narrative appropriately, which makes for a more satisfying, fulfilling consultation for all involved.’

Dr Ahmed has found medical improv particularly useful in his daily life as a GP locum: ‘As a locum you do not always have the benefit of continuity of care, so you have to form relationships very quickly with patients, and medical improv skills help me to do that.’

The inner physician

Dr Neighbour will lead his own session on Friday at the RCGP conference (session D1), entitled The Inner Physician.

Dr Neighbour believes every doctor retains an untrained ‘ordinary human being’ – the ‘inner physician’ – who makes an important but often neglected contribution to practice.

This workshop will help participants to recognise and identify aspects of their personal histories, emotions and personalities that affect patients, and to reflect on how they can best be used for the benefit of patients. He will also be signing copies of his new book on the subject at the RCGP stand in the Exhibition Hall at 1pm on Friday.

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