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VOL. 129 | NO. 19 | Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UTHSC Nurse Develops 'Socrates' Board Game

By Don Wade

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Her students were bored. She was frustrated.

University of Tennessee Health Science Center nursing students Jamie Schuh and Joshua Light play Dr. Hallie Bensinger’s game “What Would Socrates Think?” 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

That was the setup for discovery, invention and entrepreneurship.

Dr. Hallie Bensinger, an advanced practice nurse at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, planned to play a “Jeopardy”-style game as part of a PowerPoint lecture in hopes of jumpstarting her students’ brains. So she went to a supply store in search of fake money to use in the game. Instead, she found her eureka moment.

“I saw these dice that had words on them, and you roll them out and make a sentence,” Bensinger said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I could do that and make a patient.’ It grew from there.”

From that moment, Bensinger developed “What Would Socrates Think?” It is everything that the standard lecture is not – and perhaps most importantly, Bensinger says, it is engaging and challenging for students without being intimidating.

“What Would Socrates Think?” is a critical-thinking game – and what is a real-world nursing shift but a journey filled with nonstop critical-thinking decisions?

The game is designed to challenge students with ever-changing scenarios and, like many board games, makes use of dice, game cards and a spinner to create variables.

The dice start the game when, in Bensinger’s words, “You roll out a patient.” For example: A 68-year-old male transfers from a nursing home to the hospital, with no known family in the area, a high white blood count, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease and cloudy urine.

Those facts established, the object of the game is for students to make good critical-thinking decisions – correct diagnoses – and earn “improved cards.” If they make faulty decisions, the patient’s condition worsens and they get a “suffered setback” card.

If there is a constant on the floor of a hospital, it is that complications can arise. The game is designed to reflect this truth.

“Nobody just has diabetes,” Bensinger said. “Especially not in Memphis. Everybody has diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, et cetera.”

The game was first used in a pilot study among Bensinger’s UTHSC students. She gave them a questionnaire and the responses were very encouraging, averaging 4.5 out of a possible 5 across all categories.

“They said things like, ‘It’s better than case studies,’ and, ‘It helped me pull things together,’” Bensinger said.

The game also received good marks in a pilot study with Union University School of Nursing students. Currently, the game is part of a larger pilot study within Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s nurse residency program.

“The first cohort was a control group,” Bensinger said of the Methodist pilot study. “They took a health and science reasoning test to measure critical-thinking skills. They’ll take it again at the end. The second cohort will take the test, play the game five times during residency, and take the test again. We’ll see if it makes any difference in their critical thinking.”

Bensinger made her first homemade prototype in 2010. By 2012, she was turning “What Would Socrates Think?” into a marketable product. She founded LifeCareSim, a startup company dedicated to developing educational games for nursing programs. She licensed the game from the UT Research Foundation, making it LifeCareSim’s first product. The game is currently priced at $499.

Dr. Tommie Norris, who holds a doctorate of nursing science and is a professor and associate dean of the bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs at UTHSC, said Bensinger’s game is valuable, not just for what it can teach students but because “it lets faculty evaluate the students’ knowledge and skill.”

Bensinger has other games in the works, including “The Call Light Game.” In this game, low-fidelity mannequins in a nursing lab are used in combination with “What Would Socrates Think?” to simulate a real nursing floor.

“Having entrepreneurs such as Dr. Bensinger can only benefit the department,” Norris added. “It can encourage other faculty to showcase their ideas.”

Bensinger says she is also working on a maternity game and a “pap app.” But she also believes her first game has huge value in its low-tech form. In fact, when presenting it at a conference in Florida, she said, people told her taking the game to a computer format would diminish it because face-to-face communication would be lost.

She tells her own students all the time, “You cannot text your patient.”

“Nursing is more than passing out pills,” she said. “Nursing is a huge responsibility. My goal is to have nurses be the best they can be, because they’re gonna have to take care of me some day.”

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