Using Games to Teach Medical Students About Healthcare Systems

The students meet their Egg-Headed Patients and will need to protect them from harm during their new device implementation.

Since the beginning of our Telluride Student Summer Camps, games have been used to teach problem solving skills in a novel environment with the goal of transferring those skills to similar challenges in healthcare. A favorite game of faculty and staff has become the “T3-Teeter Totter Technology”. The pictures below tell a visual tale of how the Egg-Headed Patient fairs in his/her aluminum ICU as the first group of students take on the challenge of implementing a theoretical new device and protecting their two patients from harm in the process.

What you will need:

  1. 10′ long 2″ x 6″ board
  2. Cinder block
  3. 2 raw eggs
  4. Black Sharpie
  5. Aluminum foil

The unsuspecting patient!

To prepare:

  1. Place the cinder block on a hard surface, preferably outside and center the board on the block to create the teeter totter.
  2. Draw smiley faces on the Egg-Headed Patients and place on two squares of aluminum foil underneath each end of the teeter totter.
  3. Split your group into two teams.

The rules are simple:

  1. Each team chooses six from their group to balance on the 10′ long 2″ x 6″ board.
  2. Teams have 10 minutes to prepare their approach and get all six students balanced on the board, one at a time, and then get all six students off the board without harming either of the Egg-Headed Patients.
  3. Everyone must get on the board at the center point, at the cinder block.
  4. Only the students on the board can hold or balance one another. No one on the ground can support their teammates.

Students attempt the side-by-side technique of solving the challenge.

Coaching is fair game and an excellent show of leadership.

Residents use the front-to-back technique.

The debrief and student comments afterward are what make this simulation so special, and drive home the learning objectives in a meaningful way. The following questions are typically used, but you can tailor yours to fit your group or address situations that arose during the game:

  1. What was the team’s “gaming” strategy? Why did they use that strategy?
  2. How well did team members communicate with each other? With the team leader(s)? Were directions or suggestions understandable to all team members?
  3. Were there multiple conversations going on at once? If so, did this lead to any confusion?
  4. What aspects of effective teamwork were done well? What aspects could have been done better? Did the group feel like they were united as one for the good of the patient?
  5. Did the leaders/coaches do their jobs well? What could they have done better?
  6. Were there any unintended consequences to the team’s actions or behaviors?
  7. What would have enhanced your ability to learn?
  8. What is the intended and unintended consequences of new technologies in healthcare?

A successful team!

Student comments always add new perspective to the game, and will forever keep all of us on our toes as educators. The following is a comment from one of this year’s students:

One of the most memorable activities of the week was the teeter totter game.  We worked as a team to balance 6 people on a wood plank for 10 seconds without falling.  Upon stepping off of the wood, our team unfortunately could not maintain balance, and the egg/”patient” was crushed.  Following this incident, we debriefed to learn from the experience and to understand what we could do differently in the future.  We understood that clear and consistent messages by team leaders combined with critical thinking and mutual support among team members are the necessary components of success.  We were also able to improve our strategy by observing subsequent teams.  The valuable lessons from this experience will remain with me in the years ahead as I begin to interact with and play a role in health care teams. Emily Coplin, Emory University, MD/MBA 2016

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