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How Playing Dungeons & Dragons™ Will Prepare YOU for Medical School

Lately I’ve been fielding questions from earnest, interested parents about helping their children to one day reach medical school. I usually have to resist the urge to ask a snarky question about why the parents want to punish their children. But I do resist, mostly because deep-down, I have loved medical school (or all that I’ve seen of it so far).

Anyway, for the questioning parents, I trot out some advice about bringing science and social awareness into conversations at home, praising the child for being hardworking as much or more than for being intelligent, encouraging reading for fun, and all that good stuff I picked up back when I was a teacher. But really, in my heart of hearts, I want to tell the parents to get their kids to play D&D.

“But, Blake,” You might say, as you have been saying in so many of my posts lately, “that’s an awfully geeky game that—if I’m going to be honest with you, Blake—kinda dates you. Most fantasy games are now computer based.”

You’d be correct, though D&D is experiencing a renaissance. And there are few good connections between computer RPGs and medicine. For instance, managing your half-elf sorcerer’s inventory lists, stats, and skills-tree really isn’t too different from managing a patient’s “Electronic Medical Records.” Just exchange a few phrases like “hit points” for “vital signs,” “skills-tree” for “past medical history,” and “magic spells” for “current medications.”

But don’t even get me started on the EMR; that post…not so funny.

Anyway, a good old fashioned, sit-around-a-table-tossing-dice D&D game is the best possible training your child can have for medical school. Why? Because both environments might be weird, but they’re weird in similar ways. Here’s a brief list of the medical skills D&D will impart to you:


1) Learn to Oppose the Forces of Evil

Imagine a once-mighty realm that has become corrupted by mysterious, faceless, inhuman entities that—with callous disregard for human dignity and social justice—are bleeding the livelihood out of the commonfolk and causing them undue suffering and death. Once you’ve done that, you’d be imagining either the kingdom setting of your D&D campaign or the FUCKING AMERICAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM. *cough* Sorry. I’ll calm down. *cough* It’s just that whatever your alignment (lawful liberal, chaotic conservative), you know that something in this kingdom needs saving by a party (hopefully an army) of heroes. Time to strap on a chainmail or white coat, depending on your plane of existence.

2) Learn to Respect Painful & Arcane Initiation Rituals

It’ll probably be a good thing if you get excited by the years of solitary temple dwelling, arcane language learning, and semi-humiliating rituals your monk character had to endure to gain the ‘arrow-catch’ skill. Think being woken at dawn every morning by screaming sword-wielding devotees sounds stressful? *pffft* Wait until you take the MCAT or (God help you) the USMLE Step 1.

3) Learn What Dice to Roll

Gonna hold off on that skin-to-stone attack on that half-orc ranger? Yeah you are because you’re sizing up what you might roll and how likely it is he’s gonna make his fortitude saving throw. Strong work, wizard. Now you’re all set to start pushing ampicillin on that healthy twenty five year old male with strep-positive pharyngitis because you know the number needed to treat is high. Welcome to evidence based medicine, my friend, there are no actual dice here, and (most of the time) you don’t bump into too many gnomes, but otherwise same shtick, new suit.

4) Practice Creating Origin Myths

Every physician has some weird story that justifies their choice to become a cardiologist or surgeon or dermatologist or whatever. An ophthalmologist once told me he went into optho because he always got excited when he saw an eyeball opened and was thrilled to learn that he’d be really well paid to do so. Hey, man, makes as much sense as Thorg the Barbarian descending upon the lowlands to poke eyes out of the horselords and steal their gold. And…probably…being an ophthalmologist would gain you more gold. Just check the “pay me in doubloons” on the insurance forms.

5) Gain Familiarity with Professionally Important Characters

This is a big one, and I could go on and on for days about this. But, to let me get back to work on SPELLBOUND, I’ll just list a few D&D characters you’ll become familiar with and the analogous characters you’ll be working with in the hospital.

D&D Character: Master swordswomen who is forced to suffer the company of male colleges who don’t realize she’s better with a blade until it’s too. damn. late.

Analogous Hospital Character: The Badass Female Surgeon.

D&D Character: Telepath who peers disturbingly deeply into your eyes and nods as if hearing the Wisdom of the Ancients even when you’re only complaining that your jaw sometimes makes that funny popping sound when you chew.

Analogous Hospital Character: The Very Quiet Psychiatrist.

D&D Character: Ethereal humanoid who cannot stand the daylight and posses huge eyes that can see right through you.

Analogous Hospital Character: The Pale Radiologist.

D&D Character: The noble but unsung town hero who saves the day.

Analogous Hospital Character: The General Internist / Pediatrician / Geriatrician. For serious! Look it up.

What little modesty medical school has left me prevents me from publishing (but not snickering at) the analogous D&D Characters for Urologists, Proctologists, & OB-Gyns. Have fun coming up with them on your own.


Suggestions for further characters welcome in the comments, but please don’t get…too graphic 😉

PS photoshop a reflex hammer in for that guy’s broadsword and I’ll love you forever.

Love this community! I can’t tell you how happy these make me. Props to Seth for the first and David C for the second!




23 Responses to “How Playing Dungeons & Dragons™ Will Prepare YOU for Medical School”

  • You know, D&D wasn’t really that geeky until TV got ahold of it and made it into the teenage outcasts clustering in a basement in elf-gear, hiding in fantasy from the cool kids.

    I’m seriously! Vin Diesel even plays!

    Plus, I was in college and totally playing with all the cool kids. And my brother played back in the ’80s, and he was definitely Mr. Popular. Heh, and probably why I thought it was cool enough to try in college. Supersweet.

    • as always, you’re right on the money. and, i should probably realize that while ‘geek’ has a positive connotation according to me, standard American English usage might disagree with me 😉

      • No fret! I totally believe you can be a geek and still be one of the cool kids.

        Although…isn’t the original definition of “geek” someone who bites off chicken heads or something? Maybe we should classify ourselves as nerds.

        Yikes. I reeeeeeally need some sleep. Bedtime!

        • yeah, you make a good point. i’ll be the first to admit a word’s history is important..but geek does imply some amount of skill, whereas nerd is just like…nerdy. OTOH, if said skill is biting heads of chickens..well..hrmmm. i can haz more better word?

  • I can’t believe I failed my roll and got skill:scribe instead of skill:healing. I had no idea I was prepared for med school. I do still play pencil and paper D&D and look forward to rolling up a Barbarian/Urologist now that my elven cleric is rat food. Seriously, I was taken down by six rats almost two-weeks ago. My pride still hasn’t recovered (At least he was 1st level). It’s probably just as well as he had contracted the withering sickness from a couple of the bites.
    Great post.

  • Maybe I should have written the same article for law school. Ivory tower professors clearly map to wizards.

    • oh, i think you just nominated yourself to write that one (and post the link here). if i had to write something about law school i’d only be able to use the phrases “i object,” “stare decisis,” and maybe “malpractice” before i ran out of legal knowledge 😉

  • Here’s that image you wanted:



  • I’m a 5th level addiction psychiatrist.

  • I’m showing this article to my daughter. She want’s to be a Doctor and I’ve already indoctrinated her into the D&D fraternity… now she will see the genius of my evil plan. Bwahaha!

    Ahem… sorry.

    Great article though.

    • indoctrinating the future doctor to D&D. Damn!

      That was beautiful.
      glad you enjoyed it. long may your daughter’s make critical hits and physical diagnosis 😉

  • Great stuff, mate – very amusing indeed!

    …although my knowledge of US healthcare professionals is largely based on Scrubs…

    • pleasure to have you aboard, admiral! and, it’s sadly true that Scrubs most accurately captures most of hospital culture…though i guess it’s not too sad when one considers its major competition is gray’s anatomy. or..umm…greys? *grumble grumble dyslexia grumble*

      • It’s not your dyslexia making things up. Both grey and gray are correct spellings of the word, so it only makes sense that you might not be sure how the show spells it. I know I don’t know.

  • Love love love. Muhahaha!

    (It’s true for nurses, too.)

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