The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University will be working together with the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communications and Dell Medical School to aid medical students in the communication of scientific information to the general public starting this summer, UT Austin announced last month.

The Alda Center is known for its distinct way of teaching science communication. A few of the courses offered by the center include improvisation classes and a “Distilling Your Message” course that teaches the importance of speaking clearly and vividly so nonscientists can understand.

Dr. Evonne Kaplan-Liss, the medical program director of the Alda Center, explained that the new affiliation is a mutually beneficial relationship.

“The goal is two-fold,” Kaplan-Liss said. “The Alda Center curriculum will be embedded in the new Dell Medical School. This is going to help out in training medical students by teaching improvisation and ‘Distilling your Message’ techniques. The Moody College is going to help evaluate what we’ve been doing nationally and here at Stony Brook.”

The program will help future doctors in a number of areas, Kaplan-Liss said. The improvisation and distilling techniques help doctors engage their audience and their patients by avoiding complex medical jargon without leaving things out.

The Alda Center has collaborated with a number of other schools and organizations in the past, Kaplan-Liss said. The Dell Medical School is a new medical program that will welcome its first students in June 2016, and it will be much easier to integrate these courses into the medical school curriculum. Kaplan-Liss added that medical schools often don’t focus on teaching doctors how to be good communicators.

Communication skills are especially important to teach medical students before they take the Objective Structured Clinical Examination, or OSCE, Kaplan-Liss said. The OSCE is a practical exam in which medical students may be videotaped and scored based on how they interact with a simulated patient (a trained actor).

Kaplan-Liss recommended that doctors give patients the bottom line first to encourage interest and questions after the main points of interest are addressed. She mentioned that it is important to know your audience and to use storytelling, when appropriate, to illustrate the information more demonstrably.

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“As a physician, you have to understand, it’s not about you,” Kaplan-Liss said. “It’s always about the patients.”

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