Rethinking How We Teach Pathophysiology: Bringing Games and Simulations into the Classroom

by Megan Lippe, Capstone College of Nursing

Which sounds like a more exciting way to learn about the functions of the immune system: listening to an instructor lecture for three hours or playing a game of Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest? I would imagine most individuals would prefer the board game option. That is the thinking behind a major course redesign currently underway for NUR305: Human Pathophysiology.

As part of the first semester of the professional nursing coursework, Human Pathophysiology is a critical course in which students learn about the normal function and common abnormalities of the human body. This information prepares them to learn how to care for patients with various diseases and illnesses in subsequent semesters.

NUR305 is taught concurrently with assessment and nursing concepts courses. Over the course of a few semesters, we (course leaders from all three courses) began to see that students were learning the content for exams in the respective courses but struggled to see the bigger picture of how all of the information pieces together.

In an effort to help students “connect the dots,” we embarked on what has become an exciting journey in rethinking how we teach these foundational topic areas to our nursing students. First, we planned to integrate a series of high-fidelity simulations into the Human Pathophysiology course. These four simulations integrate content from assessment, pathophysiology, and concepts courses, allowing students to apply what they are learning to the care of a simulated patient.

Next, we knew we needed to teach in concert with one another so that in one week students learn about content in all three courses that relate to one another. For example, when I teach about the reproductive system in pathophysiology, my colleagues in assessment teach the breast and genitalia content while those in concepts teach about sexuality. With this intentional alignment of content, we hope students begin to connect the dots.

The biggest barrier we had to overcome was determining ways to get a class of 120 students actively engaged in learning the content. We continue to develop new and exciting ways to integrate active learning into all three courses, particularly through the use of small group “breakout sessions”. We will play Risk to learn about the immune system, with civil wars representing autoimmune diseases and spies playing the part of HIV. Using children’s toys, we will have teams build models of various cardiac diseases and share this with the class.

Throughout all the fun and excitement, we know students will gain a deeper understanding of the content that carries them beyond the test.


Megan Lippe, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor in the Capstone College of Nursing. Her NUR305 course was designated an Experiential Learning Opportunity (ELO) by Learning in Action.