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Do educational programmes for healthcare professionals focus on play?

This literature review looked at the evidence to understand how educational programmes for healthcare professionals include the use of play. It found that play is not consistently or systematically integrated into medical education.

We were curious about… education for play in healthcare

Play is a way for children to cope with the experiences and emotions that arise during hospitalisation. With increasing regularity, play is recognised as an integral aspect of children’s healthcare experiences. The World Health Organisation recommends that doctors and nurses working with children use play in their treatment and care (WHO, 2018). Paediatric wards might have play areas or playrooms, employ health play specialists, or play might be used to help children prepare for or recover from medical procedures. However, the ways in which play is used, understood, and valued in hospital contexts varies greatly. We wanted to explore whether educational programmes for healthcare professionals focused on play as it relates to children’s health and wellbeing.

And so we did… a literature review

We conducted a scoping review to search for evidence of educational programmes for healthcare professionals about the use of play in paediatric practice. A scoping approach allows researchers to review the existing information about a particular topic and ‘map’ (or organise) the research to grasp what we know, and what is not yet understood. Our team searched nine different databases, as well as non-academic literature such as book chapters and policy reports, and carefully identified which papers were relevant to our topic of interest.

We learned that… education for play in healthcare is limited and variable

Of over 17,000 pieces of literature that arose from our search, only 20 papers were focused on educational programmes about the use of play in paediatric healthcare. The majority of programmes were based in high-income countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.

Educational programmes for healthcare professionals tended to focus on different aspects of play, such as playful procedural preparation or playful communication skills, rather than emphasising a general connection between play and children’s healthcare. Most programmes were one-off workshops, and many were mono-professional (learners were all in the same professional group), mainly including nurses and nursing students.

From this review, we concluded that play is not consistently or systematically integrated into medical education, nor is information about the importance of play in healthcare reaching the various practitioners who work together to care for young children’s health.

Based on this information, we developed suggestions for future educational programmes. These include:

  • Clarify the needs of paediatric healthcare professionals, young patients, and families to ensure education is appropriate and worthwhile.
  • Whenever possible, include different occupational groups that represent different healthcare settings.
  • Strategically evaluate the effects and outcomes of educational programmes about play to better understand the benefits of play in paediatric healthcare.

In future, with enhanced knowledge about the importance of play, as well as proper frameworks and programme evaluation, we will be better able to understand the place for play in medical education and the ways that this learning is being realised in real-life paediatric practice.

This research was conducted by PEDAL researchers in partnership with researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

It was published in the journal Medical Teachers in 2023. You can read the journal article here.