Motivating medical students with games



Medical studies comparatively take longer. They take averagely 7 years to finish, depending on the country and university. Students who are intrinsically motivated are less likely to drop out of their studies. Still, every medical student will need a motivational push periodically during their training. Serious games or gamification are effective techniques used to motivate medical students. In this article, we explain how motivation works, what serious games are, and why games are motivating. We also give you an example of a proven effective serious game for medical training.

Motivating medical students

A lot of research has been done on motivation. You can see motivation as a scale with ‘extrinsically motivated’ and ‘intrinsically motivated’, at the extreme left and right, respectively. A medical student who likes to help people by operating on them (and thus making them better) is intrinsically motivated to study medicine. So is someone who has a genuine interest in medicine. For these students, motivation comes from the heart.

Other students will study for seven years because they know that, for example, their dream job as a surgeon pays well and that as a surgeon they have a good job guarantee and status. Money, prestige, status and similar factors do not come from the heart, but from external factors, such as the employer and the social environment. These are extrinsic motivational factors.

A medical student who is highly motivated intrinsically will need less extrinsic motivation to study for seven years. On the contrary, someone who has a lot of extrinsic motivation will need less intrinsic motivation because: extrinsic motivation factors are no guarantee in the future. As soon as a few factors drop out, the medical student may lose interest and quit his studies.

Motivating medical students intrinsically

Before we talk about serious games, let’s revisit the “motivation scale”. With extrinsic and intrinsic at the extreme ends, there is an area in between. Someone can also be in the middle: somewhat intrinsically and somewhat extrinsically motivated.

“Sometimes someone needs extrinsic motivation to become intrinsically motivated.”

More importantly, it may well be that someone goes into a medical study just to earn a lot of money later (extrinsic motivation), but over the course of the study develops so much passion for the field and becomes intrinsically motivated. Sometimes someone needs extrinsic motivation to become intrinsically motivated. And that is why serious games are so effective in motivating medical students.

[sc name=”newsletter-signup-EN”]

The motivational gamification techniques in serious games

Everyone plays games.: An adventure game on the Playstation or Xbox, a game of chess on the computer, or playing Angry Birds on your smartphone. We love games. So why not use games as a learning or training tool?

Serious games are video games used to convey knowledge, teach skills, and change behavior. They are as much fun as “regular games,” but there is a learning or training objective embedded in the game story or in the level(s) to be completed. For instance, boring, repetitive exercises or a huge pile of learning material can suddenly be a lot of fun.

No matter how intrinsically motivated a medical student is; we can all use some extra motivation from time to time. By playing the serious game frequently, they may develop intrinsic motivation. One thing is certain: medical students or medical staff will practice or learn more often by playing a serious game and thus achieve better results.

Let’s take a look at ‘Underground’, a gamification/serious gaming technique and it is motivating.

Underground: training surgical skills with a serious game

This game was developed for the University Medical Center Groningen (Netherlands). The surgeons of the UMCG have to train about 200 hours a year to keep their motor skills up to standard. They noticed that the surgeons were not motivated to practice with a simulator. In collaboration with Grendel Games, Underground was developed.

1. An immersive narrative with fun game characters

In the game, the surgeons have to perform the same precise actions as  in a real operation. They move into the game character ‘Sari’ and her robot friend ‘Sw4nk’. Sari’s father is unhappy with Sw4nk and sends him to the mines. Sari disagrees and tries to free her robot friend. Sari and Sw4nk get into trouble in the caves. You have to help them free them You (the player) have to help Sari free her friend. Using a laparoscopic controller, you move them through the level.

Ask a surgeon to practice his motor skills and you’ll probably get a sigh. But freeing a robot friend from the mines sounds a lot more fun. After all, the player is eager to know how Sari and Sw4nk’s story ends and gets to bond with the characters. Surgeons want to be nota bene to help people (robots, in this case). With a total of four game worlds and an immersive narrative in Underground, there is plenty of time to improve motor skills.

2. Complete challenging levels and puzzles

To free Sw4nk from the mines, the player must solve all sorts of puzzles. Puzzles activate the brain on the one hand, but also have a relaxing effect on the other. This combination ensures that the player gets motivated to continue, making the training/learning dynamic subtle. After completing a puzzle, Sw4nk and Sari get a little closer to the earth’s surface. The player is motivated to free the characters as soon as possible and complete the game.

3. Compete against others

Games are fun. Especially when you are competing against other players. In a serious game you want to show your fellow players that you are the best. While collecting rewards and completing levels you climb to the top of the leaderboard.

4. Collecting rewards

In addition to completing the puzzles,  rewards (robots) are also collected at each level. Collecting things or completing a collection is an ingrained mechanism in our brain. Players are motivated to collect every robot in the level. It is possible to move to the next level without collecting all the robots, but hardcore players will definitely replay a level if they missed a robot. These gameplay techniques are used to increase the playing time without losing the player’s motivation.

Conclusion: motivate medical students with serious games!

Serious games have been proven effective in motivating medical students. By playing a lot, medical students will be better educated and will make fewer mistakes during their work. A serious game is a long-term solution: the gamification techniques ensure that people play more often and for longer. Is someone extrinsically motivated to study medicine? Possibly the serious game will make him or her more intrinsically motivated. In short: games are fun and proven effective!


Want to know more about serious games for medical training? Please contact Tim Laning to discuss it!


Tim Laning

Business developer

Do you want to know more about the possibilities of serious games? Let’s discuss what serious games can do for you.


Related articles