What do pharmacy and online gaming have in common? Some 200 Year 2 NUS Pharmacy students are about to find that out when they take a compulsory module to help them become more proficient pharmacists.
Led by Dr Kevin Yap from NUS Pharmacy, a combined team of faculty and IT professionals conceptualised and developed an innovative multiplayer online role-playing game to equip NUS Pharmacy students with practical skills for professional practice in a community or retail pharmacy.
Set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, the online game requires students to take on the role of a pharmacist avatar and interact with virtual patients while embarking on a mystery mission, such as saving the world from a plague that transforms humans to zombies. Similar to other online games, the game offers varying levels of difficulty. It also allows students to dictate their own fate. “The scenarios within the game itself depend on what the students choose, because whatever they choose will lead to different consequences for the patient,” explained Dr Yap.
By engaging in role play, the students gain a better understanding of their patients’ medical conditions, after which they will undertake tasks applicable in real-life pharmacy practice. These tasks include processing prescriptions, prescribing over-the-counter treatments, developing a pharmaceutical care plan for the patient, as well as counselling patients. The problem-solving approach employed in the game challenges the students to develop critical thinking skills in tackling healthcare issues.
“Virtual environments provide an engaging and safe environment for students to experiment and learn from their mistakes,” said Dr Yap. “They also allow students to put themselves in the shoes of a healthcare professional to develop the skills and confidence needed towards patient interactions.”
Dr Yap and his colleagues — Dr Yap Kai Zhen from NUS Pharmacy, Mr John Yap from NUS Computer Centre and Mr Uday Satyamohan Athreya from NUS Centre for Instructional Technology — came up with a blended technology-infused learning approach that would sustain the students’ interest and encourage peer learning while improving their practical skills.
Over the course of two years, the team conducted in-depth research into the gaming experiences, motivations and preferences of close to 500 NUS Pharmacy students. Some 180 Year 2 Pharmacy students then took part in a pilot study last October. Year 3 Pharmacy student Reuben Loh, one of the participants, said that the game was very beneficial. “As I played the game, I gained more skills both in terms of compounding — how to make medicines, and at the same time, the need to empathise with patients and being able to communicate more effectively with them,” he said.
The game will be rolled out in the third week of October to Year 2 Pharmacy students and played over five to six weeks.