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Business school, improv training part of UIC's pediatric dentistry program

January 07, 2019

By Michelle Manchir

When pediatric dental residents begin their graduate program at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, they may not expect lessons in improvisational theater.

But one of the directors of the pediatric dentistry leadership skills development course is a faculty member at The Second City Training Center in Chicago, which boasts famous alumni such as Dan Aykroyd and Tina Fey.

Photo of Dr. da Fonseca
Dr. da Fonseca
Photo of Dr. Kaufer
Dr. Kaufer
Medical improvising, or "medprov," is just one part of the leadership training program that aims to help future pediatric dentists develop leadership skills such as team-building, communication strategies, conflict resolution and emotional intelligence, said Erin Raymond, project coordinator of the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration grant that funds the program.

The training, in its second year of implementation, is co-taught by UIC's Department of Pediatric Dentistry and its College of Business Administration. The course was the idea of Dr. Marcio da Fonseca, Chicago Dental Society professor and head of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at UIC, and is taught by Ms. Raymond and Ranjit Souri.  Mr. Souri is a lecturer in professional development at the College of Business Administration and at the Second City Training Center, where he teaches improvisation, comedy writing and stand-up.

Mr. Souri said using exercises similar to the training of improvisational actors and comedians can help dentists — and other medical professionals — be more effective communicators with their patients and staff. He credits Katherine Watson, an assistant professor at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, with pioneering the "medprov" concept.

"We include some specialized versions of these exercises targeted to the pediatric dental profession," he said.

The eight-week program also involves reading and group discussions about the book "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High." The bestseller is sometimes used in workplace trainings to improve relationships and communication among colleagues. The residents also complete self-reflection exercises and personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

"By the end of the course, we want our students to understand themselves better, understand how their personality traits impact their communication, be more effective listeners, be better able to empathize with their patients and families as well as staff members and be better able to address challenging issues," said Mr. Souri.

For Dr. Jamie Kaufer, now in her second year of the pediatric dentistry residency, the unique course helped prepare her for difficult conversations with future employees and colleagues, she said, in addition to patients and their families.

"I see applications (of the training) when talking to patients and parents, especially when finding a common purpose in the treatment I am doing for their child and helping the parents understand the needs of their child. It also helps me be more attuned to the concerns of the parent," said Dr. Kaufer.

Dr. Monique Luu, a second year pediatric dentistry resident who is working toward a master's degree in public health, said she is glad the leadership course was part of the curriculum, as many of the skills she developed weren't covered during dental school, she said.

"I will eventually have more of a leadership role and I think that these skills will be very beneficial," said Dr. Luu.

For more information about the pediatric dentistry leadership training at UIC College of Dentistry, contact Dr. da Fonseca by email at