Thomas Jefferson University

The Empathy Project

The Empathy Project, a collaboration between Jefferson and Lantern Theater Company initiated by Dr. Sal Mangione, seeks to foster empathy and tolerance for ambiguity among health professions students using the tools and techniques of the theatrical form. The project consists of a series of workshops designed to introduce Jefferson students and health professionals to the theatrical form, explore the basic tools of actors and playwrights, and guide them through the writing and staging of original short plays.

Through performance exercises, adaptation, and collaboration, this project challenges students to engage with characters possessing a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, while simultaneously asking students to work with an eye toward the audiences for the stories they tell. The program culminates in a live presentation of selected plays written by participants, performed by an ensemble of Lantern artists and program participants for an audience of students, staff, and community members.

Participants have praised the program for its adaptation of theatrical tools to the practices of clinical observation and diagnosis, as well as for engendering greater empathy for their patients and colleagues.

Monday, Sept. 21, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 28, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 5, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 12, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 9, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 23, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 30, 7-9:30 p.m. (online)
Monday, Dec. 7, 7-9:30 p.m. (online)


Medical Improv with Lantern Theater Company

Medical Improv, another collaboration between Jefferson and Lantern Theater Company, seeks to build on the work of our theater-based Empathy Project. Both courses aim to foster empathy and tolerance for ambiguity among medical students using the tools and techniques of theater.

Medical Improv will focus on group performance exercises and collaborative storytelling projects that emphasize spontaneity and iteration. Lantern teaching artists will lead students through a series of workshops designed to introduce them to improvisational and ensemble-based performance techniques. Students will participate in acting exercises before embarking on the creation of original group performance pieces inspired by healthcare scenarios. Students will also read and discuss contemporary plays as examples of effective communication between playwrights, actors and audiences.

Monday, Jan. 18, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 25, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 1, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 22, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Mar. 1, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Mar. 15, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Apr. 5, 7-9:30 p.m.
Monday, Apr. 12, 7-9:30 p.m.

The Empathy Project and Medical Improv are both free and open to all Jefferson students, residents, faculty and staff. To sign up, or for more information, contact David Meinhart, Education Coordinator.


The Empathy ProjectActors reading student plays at a year-end event

The Empathy Project in the News

Empathy experiment takes doctors, students out of the ‘surgical theater’ and into the actual theater. The Pulse, Newsworks.org, April 30, 2015.

All the World’s a Stage, Even the Med School Classroom. Jefferson News, May 10, 2015.

Operating Theater: When doctors do drama. Philly Voice, May 27, 2016.


Feedback from Previous Jefferson Participants

“After the first few theater classes, I realized that I started perceiving patients differently during my hospital affiliate visits. I was thinking about them much like you would think about a character in a play.  It was an exciting thing to notice, and something that I hope will make me a good doctor.”

“I think the process of writing and acting helped me process a lot of the hurt and pain I see every day in the hospital. It also helped me feel good about the work I do and gave me permission to simply be me."

“I think participation in this theater program helped me to feel a little less like a medical student, and a little more like a human being again. And that's a very good thing.”