Effective Communication, MSBS 5145S

Course Directors: 


Carol A. Terregino, MD

Professor, Senior Associate Dean for Education Associate Dean for Admissions


David Dannenfelser MA

Rutgers University Theatre Arts



Smita Thakker-Varia, PhD

Dept. of Neuroscience and Cell Biology





Course Description


This 2-credit course provides an overview of communication technique and its role in science and medicine. Effective communication of health and science is a key skill in medicine.  In this course you will learn to be in the moment, to really see and respond to what is in front of you and learn to communicate difficult concepts to general audience. This course will focus on a number of areas of instruction: i) distilling Information and tailoring its presentation to different audiences, ii) team building through ensemble based improvisational exercises, iii) developing interviewing skills, iv) exploring the doctor/patient relationship through role play exercises, v) practicing Interpersonal and practical skills necessary for conducting a History and Physical Examination (OSCE), and vi) creating talks for oral presentation.


Students will have an opportunity to participate in selected experiential improvisational exercises that are designed to further develop their 1) self-awareness and awareness of others, 2) observational and communication skills; 3) ability to think and act creatively and 4) oral presentations of newer clinical trials or experimental procedures suitable for audiences with limited scientific knowledge.

This course will facilitate a deeper understanding of your future role in caring for patients, understanding and communicating novel experimental therapies and procedures, and working with team members in accomplishing mutually negotiated goals and objectives.

Learning Objectives


Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

    • Contribute to positive group dynamics in learning communities
    • Communicate with clarity
    • Improve interview skills
    • Explain medical science including newer experimental therapies and counsel patients with limited health literacy for informed consent
    • Explore breakdown in communication
    • learn team communication
    • Understand one’s role in how to work in hierarchy
    • Explore the doctor patient relationship

Course Structure


This course will meet weekly on Mondays from 5 to 7 pm during the Fall Semester. The course will use a combination of discussions, group activities, oral presentations, role playing and debriefing.


Large Group Two or three large group gatherings focusing on distilling information and making presentations, group agreement improvisational exercises and introductory experiences in role play form.


Small Group Several smaller group gatherings focusing on skill development through specific Improvisational exercises and role-play experiences including researching complicated clinical trials and or newer experimental therapies and developing presentations suitable for a lay audience.


Course Text:


  • Bruder, Melissa, Cohn, Lee Michael, Olnek, Madelein, Pollack, Nathaniel, Previto, Robert, Zigler, Scott. A Practical Handbook for the Actor. NY: Random House, Inc., 1986. ISBN: 0- 394-74412-8
  • Selected journal articles:
    • von Minckwitz G, Procter M, de Azambuja E, Zardavas D, Benyunes M, Viale G, Suter T, Arahmani A, Rouchet N, Clark E, Knott A, Lang I, Levy C, Yardley DA, Bines J, Gelber RD, Piccart M, Baselga J; APHINITY Steering Committee and Investigators. Adjuvant Pertuzumab and Trastuzumab in Early HER2-Positive Breast Cancer. N Engl J Med. 2017 Jul 13;377(2):122-131. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1703643. Epub 2017 Jun 5. PubMed PMID: 28581356.


    • Rugo HS, Barve A, Waller CF, Hernandez-Bronchud M, Herson J, Yuan J, Sharma R, Baczkowski M, Kothekar M, Loganathan S, Manikhas A, Bondarenko I, Mukhametshina G, Nemsadze G, Parra JD, Abesamis-Tiambeng ML, Baramidze K, Akewanlop C, Vynnychenko I, Sriuranpong V, Mamillapalli G, Ray S, Yanez Ruiz EP, Pennella E; Heritage Study Investigators. Effect of a Proposed Trastuzumab Biosimilar

Compared With Trastuzumab on Overall Response Rate in Patients With ERBB2 (HER2)-Positive Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2017 Jan 3;317(1):37-47. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.18305. PubMed PMID: 27918780.


Course Topics:


The following topics will be taught for focus on the key skills:


Distilling Information

  • Practice how to break down complex subjects and explain them to different audiences


Improvisational Exercises & Games

  • Increase skills in listening and observation
  • Encourage cooperative problem solving through group agreement

  • Develop understanding of presence and authentic responses in the Doctor/Patient relationship by practicing those responses with your peers.


Role Play Exercises

  • Introduce the basic goals of Role Play Experiences; Catharsis, Insight and Role Training
  • Use Role Play techniques to explore student-initiated scenarios that challenge skills necessary for better communication in the Doctor/Patient relationship.
  • Apply Role Play Techniques to particular procedures and skills employed in Doctor/Patient encounters including the OSCE. (Role Training).


Oral Presentation

  • Write an effective speech for oral presentation
  • Analyze your text and identify the central idea
  • Choose objectives and tactics for communicating your speech
  • Use Story Telling as a part of effective communication
  • Employ Acting and Improvisational Techniques to deliver an oral presentation
  • Use the rehearsal process in preparation for oral presentation including a new therapeutic option based on a recent clinical trial


The above activities will be combined with distillation techniques to 1) describe a medical concept to a patient; 2) present a scientific finding to an audience not familiar with the field


Assessment and Grading Each student will be graded on:

Grading is derived from work in class and commitment to rehearsal outside of class. Assessment will be made of the progress in the mastery of skills required of the effective communicator and of the student’s seriousness of purpose in applying those skills in class exercises and in the rehearsal process. This will amount to 40% of final grade


Written Assignments

Each of the written assignments will be counted as 10% of the grade. Together they amount to 40%

of your final grade. Your written assignments will include:

  • The written text for your oral presentation: description of a scientific concept
  • Three reflections self-assessing your progress in communication skills development written during the first week of the course, mid-term and final


Final Exam Oral Assignments


Final exam will consist of a practical demonstration of what the student has learned in the course in the form of an oral presentation of 15 min and will be counted as 20% or the final grade.

Presentation of the distillation of a scientific concept

  • Presentation of a diagnosis to a patient
  • Presentation of a new therapeutic option based on a clinical trial








© 2017