ChangeMedEd Initiative

Video games are changing medical education


Video games are creating new ways to teach physicians in training. One physician educator recently explained how gaming can transform competency-based education and shared three video games that are already helping students master clinical skills.

“If any of you have teenagers or know millennials, they’re playing these games where they are in the isolation of their environment, but they’re communicating with others playing the same game all over the world,” Suraiya Rahman, MD, assistant professor at Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California, told a group of educators during a presentation at the AMA’s CHANGEMEDED conference in October. “They are coordinating, getting together and building plans. They’re able to adapt different characters, build environments and move in [them].”

Dr. Rahman said students can reap the same benefits of massive multiplayer online role playing games by collaborating with their peers and educators in clinical learning environments.

“You can create a game to mimic any kind of environment—the academic medical center, the community medical center, the VA center,” she said. Freed from the confines of an actual classroom, educators can use game theory to build environments for students to accomplish individualized goals, test their clinical knowledge and build competencies across care settings.

Plus, gaming can appeal to some of the common traits of medical students and physicians. “Video games offer competitive environments, and medical students and physicians are type A. We love to win,” Dr. Rahman said. “We love being really good at something, learning something and getting better at it.” Games offer prime opportunities for self-directed learning.

As gamers, she said medical students can test their skills and simultaneously have the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes, which reinforces the concepts they need to master. Video games also offer unique opportunities for students to conduct risk-benefit analysis and follow tailored learning plans.

Dr. Rahman noted three games that are already helping students master various skills in virtual medical settings:

  • Prognosis”: “This [game] is similar to how we all teach and learn clinical diagnostic reasoning,” Dr. Rahman said. “Prognosis” provides clinical cases with pictorial representations of physical exams. Students can ask for labs and images for a simulated patient, and the game will generate them. This allows students to test their decision-making skills and assess their clinical knowledge in a risk-free virtual environment. “The game follows [the physician’s] trail of thinking. It creates that network of thinking that we’re used to,” Dr. Rahman said. “What better way to learn about patterns than to see [them] on screen and take that information in?”
  • Medical School”: With this video game, premedical students can roam the virtual walls of a medical school, treat patients in clinical settings and order exams. “The game creates an environment where students can imagine they’re walking in and can ask the environment to do something for them .... It tries to simulate some of the work we do and the order [in which] we do it,” Dr. Rahman said.
  • Microbe Invader”: This game lets students operate as busy clinicians in an understaffed virtual hospital. They can “diagnose patients by ordering lab tests and matching the symptoms and history to bacteria that fit the presentation,” according to the game’s official site. With a buzzing pager in tow, online characters can explore the hospital and choose from a variety of emoji-style microbes, antibiotics and characters to help treat infectious diseases.