Gaming in Medical Education

Chris Poynter on 01-08-2014

I’ve been thinking for a while that the concepts and resources thrown into gaming will spill over into the medical education world. In fact I’ve been hoping that this will happen as I reckon it will be a breakthrough time for education.


I am not much of a gamer. I have never really felt like I have had the time.  However, I can certainly understand the addiction that games can have as they tap into that part of the human psyche which craves instant feedback and recognition for achievement.  I’ve watched friends get addicted to multiplayer online role playing games along with simple arcade games and occasionally been sucked into games only to have to wean myself off them so I do not lose all my productivity. 


My 7 year old daughter is currently addicted to a mathematical app which tests her skills and gives her badges or medals for the work that she does. So much so that she has revolutionised her mathematical skills without once seeming like it is homework. We have now started limiting her mathletics time as she is so addicted!  


This is an amazing contrast to the way that I was taught maths as a youngster and I turn to my more recent medical education and think about the difficulty I had motivating myself for my post graduate exams.  A year’s worth of study for my part 1 and both part 2 exams and the only feedback was a pass or fail at the end. My study was all-consuming, laborious, often inefficient and it was exceptionally difficult to track my progress.  Surely, this wasn’t the best way to learn.


There are all manner of educational tools available in order to try to help organise and motivate learners but, at the end of the day, much of learning still seems like hard work.  Simulation, although an important part of the modern medical educational landscape, is stressful for those involved and generally resource intensive.  Flashcards may improve efficiency for retention of important facts but certainly doesn’t add to the fun factor.   


When I was sitting my final exams at medical school, my study group decided that the best way to learn the minutiae required was to turn random facts into categorized questions and play our version of “medical pursuits” on a trivial pursuits board.  This turned the otherwise laborious task of learning facts from textbooks into a fun game which we could do together. It seemed to enhance our learning and our enjoyment of that learning.  I haven’t seen this replicated since and that has surprised me.  


It strikes me that clinical scenarios could be easily incorporated into role-player games and complexity of scenarios/skills required could increase as trainees/players progress through game modules by gaining points/experience.  Surely this would be better than sitting at a desk with a textbook open or even listening to podcasts and would provide safe active learning.


I have thought much about how to motivate my own learning and now that of my trainees.  It seems that games are specifically designed to challenge the players to learn new skills and tap into aspects of teamwork, competition and fun that combine to strongly motivate the players. 


Of course there is the argument that this is such a niche area that the resources required to produce decent games do not warrant the realisation of the idea. However, surely in the current era, due to technological advances, there is a globalisation of the market place enabling niche markets to be catered to.  


Have you come across gaming as part of your education? Do you think that there is utility in this? Why hasn’t it taken off? As always, I’m interested in your views - please comment below.



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Lawrence from United Kingdom wrote 12-12-2015 11:16:55 pm

I really liked your post. I play every now and then and and for short periods can get really addicted to some of then. Fortunately my work does not allow a decent addiction to form:)

I think healthcare altough obviously important does not really have that much of a potential in terms of profit. Thats why IT solutions penetrate this world very slowly. I think if as much resources were put to a decent electronic record keeping/prescribing system as e.g. developing facebook this field would evolve as quick. The same is true for gaming. While there are lots of gamers out there ready to pay for games/subscriptions the number of doctors is obviously a way smaller number. And as we both have mentioned our profession does not really allow for addictions (workaholism may be the only exception).

An other thing that comes to my mind speaking of gaming:
Certain games are thought to improve certain skills. For example I have played StarCraft, one of the top real time strategy games also played on international tournaments. Many have postulated that playing this game improves your multitasking. As you need to shift your attention between patients the same way you need to shift between mining minerals and attacking an enemy base. As ridiculous it sounds. I like the idea, but I dont think there is any really compelling evidence out there though.


Alfalah12345 from United Arab Emirates wrote 12-19-2015 07:29:54 pm
I really liked your post.I think healthcare altough obviously important does not really have that much of a potential in terms of profit. Thats why IT solutions penetrate this world very slowly.




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