Med students open to learning via new media
■ However, their differing opinions about the games they would like to use and their effectiveness present obstacles.
Having been raised in an age of ubiquitous technology, medical students are game to using new media and virtual reality as part of their education, according to a new survey.
However, students' varied opinions about what games they would like to use, and the unresolved question of whether they would be effective, are barriers to overcome before medical schools add video games to the curriculum.
Ninety percent of the 217 participants in the study -- medical students at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the University of Michigan Medical School -- said they would be inclined to use new media technologies if they helped to develop skills in patient interactions. Meanwhile, 98% said they think education should make better use of new media, according to the study, published online June 24 in BioMed Central.
The study defined new media as computer and video games, virtual-reality environments, social networks, websites, mobile devices, blogs and podcasts.
And 80% said video games can have educational value -- even though only about half of the students classified themselves as video game players.
Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, the study's co-author and director of the Japanese Family Health Program in the Dept. of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, said part of the motivation for the study was to learn more about students' attitudes to determine whether developing new media teaching methods was warranted.
Although there have been previous studies on using simulation games to train surgeons, Dr. Fetters said, there hasn't been much on using multiplayer simulation to improve decision-making skills.
Researchers determined that given the gender differences in game play attitudes, developers of new educational gaming platforms would need to design games that appealed to both genders. Women preferred games that emphasize personal challenge, and men preferred games that emphasize competition. But both men and women agreed that they were most inclined to use multiplayer simulations if they were fun (97%) and if they helped to develop skills in patient interaction (90%).
Dr. Fetters said students role playing in a multiuser environment could experience situations from the opposite side of where they will be as physicians.
"Serious games are the sort of thing we need to bring into medicine, where it's real world, but it's a safe environment," he said. "In fact, it's an environment that can be forgiving, because there's not patients at risk because of bad communication skills or undesirable behaviors, whatever those might be."
Some medical schools are dabbling in virtual reality as a teaching method.
John Weicha, MD, MPH, assistant dean for academic affairs and director of medical student education in the Dept. of Family Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, has studied the potential for virtual worlds in medical education.
His research focused on Second Life, a virtual world where users communicate with one another as an avatar, or animated version of themselves. The study, published in the January Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that virtual worlds offer the potential to enhance learning outcomes.
Dr. Weicha said that although there had been much research on the potential benefits of virtual reality, he is not aware of any research showing that actual learning has taken place from its use. This lack of evidence may be the reason few medical schools have adopted it into their curriculums.
"The evidence will come. I'm totally convinced this will be effective, but we're not quite there yet," he said.
He's hoping to help change that. Dr. Weicha is starting a pilot program using virtual reality to teach patient-physician communication. He expects to publish a paper on the pilot later in 2010.
Another barrier to adoption by medical schools is the investment in time and money to train educators how to use the environments, Dr. Weicha said.
However, efforts are under way to bring gaming into the medical curriculum. For example, Frederick Kron, MD, co-author of the BioMed Central study and an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin at the time the research was conducted, is now founder and president of Medical Cyberworlds, a company that creates and analyzes new media-based education for medical schools.