The “Gamification” of Skills Training

The ability for clinicians to practice and perfect the skills necessary to enhance and save lives is undeniably crucial. Having the right tools to accomplish that necessity is the first step. 

What if those tools are not just effective but also fun, memorable, and engaging? What if they can surprise the user with unexpected challenges that replicate the skills needed for the medical procedure they are preparing to perform? By turning stressful and complex tasks into a game, we can ensure the kind of buy-in and engagement that leads to true internalization of learning.

That’s the power of the “gamification” of skills training. If you read part one of the upcoming four-part series that sets out to answer the question, “Do all medical demonstration models need to represent anatomy?” you already know that there are many times when it is neither necessary nor beneficial to provide anatomical replication when creating the model.

In today’s discussion, we will dive into part two: how gamification can enhance learning outcomes and clinician engagement through multi-sensory, delightful experiences. 

Making It Memorable

Much of what surgeons do requires complex and intricate processes that have very little room for error. If these processes are to be completed at the required level of precision, the surgeon needs to be able to utilize their skills in a way that is nearly automatic. Some would call this “muscle memory,” while others would correctly argue that muscles themselves have no memory. 

The automated exactness of these skills is, of course, developed through repetition to the point of being able to visualize each minuscule movement required to complete the task. For this level of learning to occur, the learning process needs to be memorable.

In the same way, that song lyrics are far easier to remember than a verbatim recital of a paragraph from a textbook, medical training processes are easier to remember when the medium used during the training provides higher-level stimulation. 

Providing a memorable multi-sensory experience for medical training often does not involve anatomical representation at all, much less a 1:1 replica of the anatomy. Creating a model that will facilitate efficient learning of complex tasks may involve turning that task into a game or otherwise increasing the entertainment factor. 

Injecting entertainment value into a novel task or knowledge set has been shown to increase “unique cognitive resources, associate reward, and pleasure with information, and strengthen and broaden memory networks.”1 This is precisely where the “gamification” of skills training comes into play.

aMAZEing Models

Urologists are an example of specialists who often must perform complex surgical navigation tasks. This can be a high-stakes “maze” of sorts and requires immense precision and control of the scope and surgical apparatuses. 

To enhance this important training, we developed a model that requires the same precise navigation as a surgical stone extraction in a beautiful and appealing way without the representation of anatomy. 

As you can see with this model, the clinician has the opportunity to complete various pathways that each provide unique challenges and require a specific skill set.


Using varying entry points, volume, depth, and angles, this model was designed to allow the clinician to access the vast array of challenges they will face during surgery, but in a way that will provide memorable processes and clear outcomes.

Similarly, we developed a urology obstacle course model that provides an opportunity for surgeons to practice their skills by guiding a wire through a tract. The model’s tract includes built-in detours to create navigation challenges for training kidney stone extraction.


The white knobs you see in the model can be adjusted to change the diameter of the tract. This replicates the challenges posed with varying levels of ureter stricture.

The combination of detours and adjustable tract stricture provides the clinician with the chance to fail. The opportunity to fail is the opportunity to overcome failure and sharpen one’s skills. 

Just as a video game captivates players with its intricate mazes and unexpected challenges, these models have a similar effect on surgeons. They transform the learning process into an exciting journey of discovery and mastery, akin to conquering levels in a game. As learners navigate through the model’s complexities, they’re not just acquiring skills; they’re experiencing the thrill of overcoming obstacles, the joy of unexpected victories, and the fun of game-like learning. It turns education into an adventure!

Funhouse

Although the urology examples above highlight the use of non-anatomical models with the primary goal of enhancing the training experience of surgeons, models may also be used by a device manufacturer to demonstrate the performance of their product while providing an unforgettable training experience in the process. 

A particularly fun example of this notion was a model we created to demonstrate the clarity of a company’s scope. Instead of exclusively utilizing the typical anatomical models that demonstrate vasculature, tumors, and other standard scope pathways, we decided to turn the experience into something that would be indelible.

We created a miniature “funhouse” full of surprises around every corner. It included vibrant colors, textures, and shapes, doors to different rooms, tiny eye exam charts, and a variety of other quirky decorations and designs.

By using a demonstration medium that the target audience had never seen, we created an experience they wouldn’t forget. It both demonstrated the clarity of the scope while simultaneously allowing clinicians to practice their navigation skills with the product. 

Wrap-Up

The representation of anatomy is important and imperative in many situations. It is much of what we do here, after all! However, in certain scenarios, not using anatomy creates the most memorable and effective outcomes. A number of those scenarios will be covered in this four-part series that answers the question, “Do all medical demonstration models need to represent anatomy?”

The most entertaining of those scenarios is undoubtedly turning skills training into a game through the use of unforgettable models that do not represent anatomy. The examples covered here today are a nanoscopic sample of the endless possibilities to turn a model into an experience.

It’s a method of learning that brings surprises, challenges, and joy to the clinicians who dedicate their lives to the betterment of others. It’s a way of turning a complex task into a fun and memorable adventure. It’s a way of making skills training not just effective but also enjoyable.

As the late American philosopher John Dewey once said, “All genuine learning comes through experience.” Experiences this unique will not be forgotten.