Gaming as Training for Nursing Students


Posted to Nursing, Nursing News, Nursing School, Nursing Specialties

Serguei Kovalev -

Practice makes perfect and nobody is a perfect nurse right away. So it would be nice if nurses could make their rookie mistakes on virtual patients rather than real ones. The University of Minnesota School of Nursing is helping to develop a bunch of computer games that allow that kind of practice for nursing students, the Minnesota Daily reports.

A clinical professor at the U of M named Tom Clancy (apparently no relation to the novelist) is working with the software company VitalSims and local hospitals to develop serious educational tools that would take their place alongside similar tools used by the military, for example.

Simulation is not new in health care — many nursing schools have fancy robot “patients” that are getting more and more sophisticated. They can be mighty expensive, though.

Games are more cost-effective and are able to provide an extremely wide variety of practice situations. Users can train for really complex situations or stick to the basics, according to their needs.

Clancy said gaming is not set to replace any of the familiar components of education, but it will supplement book work and lectures.

“Every time you go from one modality to another, you’re doing a different kind of learning,” he said. Clancy said adding gaming to students’ curricula may seem inefficient, but it reduces the time needed in other educational settings. VitalSims’ CEO Chris Duncan cited a 2008 study that showed serious gaming to assist information retention 91 percent more effectively than lecture attendance.

“We’re still trying to tease out exactly how to implement gaming in education.” Serious gaming is, Clancy said, “in its infancy.”

The game

Clancy opened an early version of his program and chose “Myocardial Infarction” (heart attack) from a list of injuries and ailments on the game’s main menu.

“You’ll have to excuse the graphics; they’re kind of old,” Clancy said.

The heart attack mission opens with a cutscene, or non-interactive scripted event, in which two identical nurses banter before entering the emergency room.

Soon after, they enter the ER, and from then on it’s strictly business. The game is played from a first-person perspective, with the player positioned over the patient. Intense music accents the time pressure, as do occasional comments from the assistant nurse.

There is a “toolbox” at the bottom of the screen in which the player selects from an array of instruments divided by category.

Clancy used his magnifying glass by finding it in a sub-menu and dragging it to the patient’s mouth. When he determined she wasn’t breathing, he opened a another menu, equipped an oxygen pump and selected the appropriate rhythm from a list. He then equipped a heart monitor, which brought up a cardiogram on the side of the screen.

“That rhythm,” Clancy explains, “happens to be very deadly.”

Next he demonstrated the scoring system by purposefully administering random drugs and using incorrect instruments. The patient eventually died.

These games will include multiplayer and cover a wide variety of cases, hopefully ensuring that students are given breadth of experience, Duncan said.

He said cultural considerations are also planned, such as settings that account for different languages and religious beliefs, which will help make it more accessible. There will also be leaderboards, which Clancy said he believes will encourage students to improve through competition.

‘The way of the future’

The new games are part of a growing trend of using gaming for professional development.

Linda Olson Keller, another professor of nursing at the University, is supportive of Clancy’s and the MHA’s project. She described a similar initiative by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use games to promote public health. One game, called HealthBound, challenges players to solve health-related problems and then scores their results and encourages them to get involved in various community programs.

Another, from the Chicago Department of Public Health, is designed to prepare players for a possible anthrax outbreak.

Keller described this method of education as “the way of the future.”

Clancy foresees games becoming commonplace in other fields.

“We’re seeing this continuum of different ways of education, and gaming has its place in here now,” he said. “We’re still learning where exactly that place is.”