Using a drama-based approach to enhance the education of sympathetic presence and support communication skills for person-centred nursing students

  • Karl Tizzard-Kleister

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study seeks to extend on the increasing number of collaborations between the disciplines of drama and nursing across the globe.

The aim of this doctoral study is to explore notions of sympathetic presence and to design drama-based workshops to explore this with person-centred nursing students. The study seeks to answer how drama-based interactive education can enable nursing students to develop an embodied understanding of sympathetic presence within a person-centred curriculum.

The study followed an applied ethnography methodology. First-year nursing students at Ulster University were invited to participate. The Participants (n=7) took part in workshops over the month of November 2018 totalling 24-hours contact time. Three stands of data were collected: the researcher’s field notes from participant-observation, creative personal reflections from participants during the intervention, and a focus group interview after the conclusion of the workshops. These sources were triangulated and analysed.

The findings highlight how taking part in the drama-based workshops led to the participants engaging more in person-centredness, overcoming their personal vulnerabilities, showing an enhanced ability to attend to others, and
an understanding of how to perform presence.

This study shows how when sympathetic presence is considered and taught as performative through applications of existing drama based approaches, ways to identify and improve it become clearer. This also enhanced other person-centred processes. Engaging person-centred nursing students in drama-based activities provides a robust skill set to improve their ability to perform sympathetic presence alongside other outcomes such as developed interactive skills.

The main implication of this study is that the ways sympathetic presence is taught and assessed should adopt approaches from drama. The study also suggests that drama practitioners could adopt sympathetic presence as a concept and practice in place of empathy. Furthermore, there is rich ground for future study of more specific effects of applying drama-based approaches to person-centred nursing.
Date of AwardAug 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMatt Jennings (Supervisor), Tanya Mc Cance (Supervisor) & Brendan Mc Cormack (Supervisor)


  • Drama
  • Nursing
  • Person-centred
  • Inter-disciplinary

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