Working as David Solomon at Keck, Rumnock tuned his performance in response to the students.
When he sensed discomfort in one, he dialed up the emotion — his face turning red, tears forming in his eyes.
It forced the student to engage, laying a hand on Rumnock's shoulder.
"I felt you connect with me and then pull back," he later told the students as a group, during a feedback session after the exercise. "I felt, 'I can't let this happen.'"
Class member Stephen Kessler said he had trouble keeping his composure while working with Rumnock, even though he knew the actor wasn't actually dying.
"It's funny. You're sitting in a room that is obviously not a hospital room — it's a room on campus that you've been to a bunch of times before. But it does feel real," Kessler said. "A lot of credit goes to the actors. They throw themselves into the characters they're supposed to be playing."
One week after playing David Solomon, Rumnock was rushing back and forth between work on an independent movie and another SP gig at Keck.
This time, he would portray an angry patient.
"It's a great acting exercise," he said. "It's a rare opportunity to do improv without comedy. Everything that defines acting is here" — complicated emotions, physicality, give and take.
But for Rumnock, as for the students, there's also more: a collision between performance and reality that surprises him.
Being an SP has awakened his inner hypochondriac: "Every time I do a diabetic," he said, "I'm convinced I have diabetes."
It has also changed how he regards the doctors he comes across in his own life. When a cousin was recently hospitalized, gravely ill with liver failure, Rumnock watched a physician stumble through a discussion of her care.
The doctor talked and talked, but it was clear to Rumnock that his cousin didn't understand that she was dying — and that the doctor didn't grasp that.
"We are so isolated," Rumnock reflected. "We don't know how to communicate anymore."
At his cousin's side, he started asking questions that steered the doctor toward spelling out the truth.
He tried to do it gently, the way the best medical students learn to do.