Pamela Kato- “No Sweat” Simulating Stress for Young Doctors

As a researcher for technology relating specifically to Primary and Secondary education, Pamela Kato’s (@pamkato) keynote was, I confess, one that I considered skipping. But, coffee in hand, I found myself sitting second row… and after about 20 seconds the coffee was all but forgotten. Like all the keynote speakers of the day Dr. Kato was vibrant and exciting; and ever so slightly terrifying with her comparison of deaths resulting from medical errors, in the US alone, being the equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every day of the year- on the plus side I think she cured my fear of flying!
Dr Kato is, for all intents and purposes, a psychologist. Being intrigued by the above statistic, as many would be I am sure, she investigated the root causes of such medical errors, and while at times knowledge is a factor, the overwhelming factor is stress. Solution? Computer games!
My foray into the medical world doesn’t extend past the board game Operation, but I remember the stress well. Hands shaking, brow sweating, the pressure mounting to get that rubber band (do you remember the rubber band? It was the worst!) out without the earth shatter beeeeeeep that meant you had hit the metal wall…. consider that in real life; no longer 5, sitting in the comfort of your own home, playing with friends, but in the operating room with an actual life in your hands. Yeah, I can imagine there would be oodles of pressure. Enter Air Medic Sky 1, the grown-up, more serious Operation.
The interaction that the game allows amazed me. I loved that there was still fantasy, rather than a mega serious hospital mode, Air Medic Sky 1, is, surprisingly enough, set in the sky. The game face is beautiful and as realistic as I can imagine a computer game being. As Dr. Kato said, if the game isn’t fun, no one will play it and no one will learn. She expressed awe that institutions wanted to use this game for assessment purposes; I found no shock in this request, the game is the perfect learning tool and assessment platform. It promotes no stress learning; trial and error without consequences. This can only ever be a good thing; no an amazing thing! If students- from any academic area- can learn and be assessed without stress they will undoubtedly be more confident when they face the situation in the real world. I would never suggest that the virtual world should completely take over the real world for learning environments (especially in the medical profession! I like to know my doctor has treated an actual human before) but a combination of the virtual and real world, I believe, is the perfect concoction.
As a Law student, I was lucky enough to volunteer for the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux; the experience was invaluable, but I was dealing with real people and real problems. My first day (and my second and third…) was terrifying. However, I was also very fortunate to have a forward thinking, unique, creative lecturer who for two years in a row had us take on the role of a United Nations country and fight out their case in a mock Security Council setting. Not exactly virtual, but still I had the real life, without fear or repercussion (apart from a bad grade) experience. This type of learning and assessment is crucial for everything from preparation for the real world, confidence building, to successful learning (I received my best grade in this class).
I loved Pamela Kato’s keynote; it invited questions and ideas that I could never have imagined… and a desire to play computer games that I never had before….