Jared Squires, Alex Liu, and Andrew Vidalis perform in the 2018 Humanism in Medicine Gala. Photo courtesy: Nick Stancato

Students in Ohio State’s medical program have a reputation for devoting their time to studying. But even the most dedicated students find they need time to blow off steam.

The Medical Student Improv Group is a student organization founded two years ago to help medical students unwind with the added benefit of preparing them for their chosen careers. Led by co-presidents Jared Squires and Alex Liu, the club has returned for its third year.

“It’s a nice opportunity to vent, and it’s good practice for being able to respond to different situations, whether actions or words, and react accordingly,” Jared Squires, a Ph.D. student in the Wexner Medical Center medical program, said.

While the group’s main goal is to be a place for students to have fun and take a break from the heavy course load, they believe being able to think on their feet and remain level-headed in the face of whatever is thrown at them will help future patient interaction.

“Being comfortable with uncomfortable is good for a doctor,” Andrew Vidalis, a Ph.D. student in the Wexner Medical Center medical program and the club’s treasurer, said.

Matthew Murtha, a Wexner Medical Center Ph.D. student and participant in the club, said improv emphasizes teamwork and communication, both of which are good skills to have in any workplace, including hospitals and doctor’s offices.

“I had no prior improv experience or theater experience coming into this, and it’s been a really good experience because it forces you out of your comfort zone,” Murtha said.

Club members say the biggest benefit of the club is that it makes them laugh and takes their minds off work.

“We really want to emphasize that improv club is not a place for professional development,” Liu, who is also a Wexner Medical Center Ph.D. student, said. “We wanted our club to be a place where you could come and have fun and not think about school for an hour or so.”

Many of the members were not familiar with theater or improv before they started participating. The meetings are a casual setting where attendees are not required to participate in games or activities, though most end up doing so.

“You don’t have to participate,” Vidalis said. “People come and watch and they have fun as well.”

Games are often taken from shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and off internet forums. While they might not be intended to involve medicine, the sketches frequently come back to the students’ shared field of study.

“At some point, most of the skits do get medical,” Vidalis said. “Just because that’s what we’re familiar with. But we try to not start it like that.”

Members of the club generally don’t put on performances, though the board members performed at the Humanism in Medicine Gala last May. The club is planning an event at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital December with UltraSound A Capella.