For Great Healthcare Training, Tell Great Stories


n 2009, Radiolab host and producer Jad Abumrad was a new father. He, like many awestruck new parents, yearned to know just what was going on in his newborn’s mind. So he turned to writer and developmental psychologist Charles Fernyhough, who had written a book discussing what we do and don’t know about what’s happening in the minds’ of young children.

In their conversation, Fernyhough reveals that what newborns see and what adults see is quite different. The lens of a newborn’s eye, he explains, is crystal clear (meaning newborns don’t filter out blue frequencies of the light), whereas adult lenses are slightly yellowed.

To help Abumrad understand what this meant, Fernyhough painted the picture: “If you can imagine being in a Greek village in the summer at noon…everything is white. You’re wearing sunglasses, and you suddenly take off those sunglasses.”

With one simple, yet relatable comparison, Fernyhough brought the medical fact to life, effectively ensuring what he said truly stuck with his listener.

This is storytelling, and just as Fernyhough used it to educate his listener, you, too, can use it in your healthcare training to better educate your audiences.

The Effectiveness of Storytelling

According to the National Storytelling Network, storytelling is the interactive act of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. But you already knew that. You’ve known it since you were a child when your parent, grandparent or other family member or friend brought a bedtime story to life with imaginative voices and vivid actions. The real question is, “What the heck does storytelling have to do with healthcare training?”

No matter if you’re trying to educate employees, patients or the community at large, there’s a good chance you’re thinking storytelling has no place in your training. And as writer and marketing consultant Art Levy points out, it’s true that words “story” and “storytelling” are more likely to bring to mind “fanciful tales, dubious excuses and making things up as you go along.” But the fact is storytelling has the unique power to engage people’s senses and memories in ways old-school training tools like PowerPoint presentations, lectures and handouts simply can’t. 

“If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part of the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area,” says Leo Widrich on the buffer blog. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.” 

He continues: “When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.”

Storytelling ignites a kind of cognitive play, a stimulus and training for a lively mind, says Forbes Contributor Steve Denning. Using storytelling in training helps you capture learners’ attention unlike anything else and aids with the retention of course material. Or as Denning says, “When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than other tools. It’s the only thing that works.”

How to Tell Better Stories in Healthcare Training

So what does this all mean for you? For one thing, healthcare trainers who focus on telling stories to educate will be rewarded with listeners’ attention and deep concentration, which will lead to better retention. Not only does this mean fewer costly or even dangerous mistakes, it also means decreased repeat training of the same material. And as an added bonus, you make a great first impression on new trainees.

If you’re interested in incorporating storytelling into your healthcare training, but aren’t what you’d call a natural born storyteller, the good news is storytelling can be learned. There are various online resources you can explore to hone your storytelling skills for more effective training.

Alternatively, you can turn to proven healthcare storytelling and training experts who will work with you to bring your stories to life in such a way that helps you meet your larger training goals and objectives. Click here inquire about crafting more effective healthcare training with the storytelling experts at Expand.

Will Holland