This morning I was at the sports therapist for a running injury. My doctor had a fourth year medical student working with him. The student was learning the ropes hands on, participating in the small talk, listening as the doctor explained each step of the exam, his initial prognosis and the treatment plan. The medical student was very pleasant, and I think he’ll do well interacting with patients. But, what if I wasn’t real, at least not in the traditional sense, and suppose the doctor, the small talk and the exam all occurred virtually? What might the medical student learn about patient care?
I think he could learn a lot, and so does the Imperial College in London. The school has been utilizing Second Life as a tool to teach third year medical students. A simulated game-based approach to learning can provide something a lecture room can’t – experience. The students are acting as doctors in a full-service virtual hospital. They are interacting with patients, performing exams, making diagnosis and learning to follow appropriate procedures. The virtual experience mimics live interaction, and while students are dinged for things like, not following proper hand washing procedures, a real patient can not be injured in the process. By using Second Life students learn from mistakes in a safe environment. Since it is interactive, they can also develop communication skills with virtual patients, allowing them to polish their bedside manner before they step foot into a real examination room.
The program is not going to exempt students in any way from their “live” training, however it is certainly good practice. CNN covered this story, in the article, Can Second Life help teach doctors to treat patients? You know my answer, what’s yours?