An iPad should be mandatory in medical school

We’ve heard of several medical schools requiring students to use either an Apple iPhone or iPod touch, but what about the iPad?

Some schools have been experimenting with digital e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle. Medical textbooks are frequently filled with photos and other color-rich images, so the grayscale Kindle isn’t the ideal e-book reader for medical students who wish to carry their textbooks electronically. This is where the Apple iPad could revolutionize the way medical students learn.

Will some medical schools try to educate their students using digital technology? I’m sure it’s bound to happen. What I don’t know is whether the iPad will improve the way students learn medicine.

Since I’m a technology advocate, I could make several compelling arguments to say that interactive learning is much more effective than traditional lectures and didactic education. I could also say that retention could be enhanced with the use of digital quizzes that occur at the point-of-learning. You can’t do that with a text book, but you could do that with a digital version. I could argue that multimedia enhances the educational experience compared to static color images. But all these arguments could fail if students are not ready and willing to embrace technology to enhance their education.

The average pre-med college student is probably tech-savvy and digitally connected via a smartphone, several social media accounts, and a laptop computer. If you hand that student an iPad filled with medical textbooks and multimedia resources, will that student learn effectively? I would think so.

Joseph Kim is a physician-executive who blogs at Mobile Health Computing.

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  • Brian

    I should think it might be best to see whether the iPad is any good in its capacities as an interactive learning device before we start making bold proclamations like the one in the title. That technology could potentially augment medical education is a sentiment with which I generally agree, but let’s not let our eagerness for new technology take precedence over our desire to see it rationally introduced, lest we unwittingly do to medical education what “new math” did to elementary education.

  • Mike

    I have to agree with Brian. As a current 1st Year student…I certainly study longer with my books than the relatively short battery life of the iPad. We are fully digital in the curriculum (using digital texts, MD Consult & StudentConsult, and standard laptops issued to all students) but the hardcopy texts still fill an important role for visual information (that most students must reformat/recopy/redraw multiple times for retention) and concurrent access that the digital resources can’t provide, yet. My bookbag always contains my Essential Clinical Anatomy/First Aid Step 1/Laptop/Kindle DX for the rest of the texts (notably Robbins, Gray’s for Students, Ganog’s Physiology, DeGowin) in Kindle or pdf format.

  • Ed

    or they could get a netbook and actually have a functional device like being able to type notes and save a lot of money

  • buckeye surgeon

    I think it should be mandatory that medical students are supplied with magic carpets. Would they get to class in great comfort and convenience? I would think so.

  • Erik

    This argument is as old as index cards. Whenever something is invented is should become manditory in medical school – a textbook, a cell phone, a pager, note cards, that little drug book we keep in our pocket, the sliderule, the Newton – everyone forgets what the next big thing was going to be.

    Anyone remember when belt packs (“fanny packs”) were required for medical students? Back when I was in med school we had to keep empy blood tubes in our belt packs at all times. The bad old days.

    The only thing that should be required for medical students are attendings and patients. Residents, stethascopes, the OR and lectures help, but let the students themselves decide what will help them learn how to be good doctors. If they thought more and used less fancy gadgets, we’d have better doctors.

  • ninguem

    My medical school had a list of “required” items a mile long. Microscopes, despite the fact that the school provided them in the labs. Textbooks, the internal medicine book with the East Coast authors, the book with the West Coast authors, the book with the UK authors, all three would be “required”. Same with the surgery textbook, etc.

    I asked why. Real simple. At that time at least, if the school “required” something, the military scholarship programs paid for it. So it was “required” on paper for the benefit of the students on that program. Fine. Good for them. They earned it……or will earn it.

    Faculty told me to forget about the requirement list, and just buy what I felt I needed as time passed in school.

  • EJH

    I used a tablet PC for note-taking during my first 2 years of medical school and loved it (infinite paper!). However, reading textbooks on a tablet interface is not (yet) ideal– many texts are online (MDConsult, AccessMedicine, etc.) and so annotating requires printing individual pages into OneNote or PDF. I don’t think the iPad would work well for students until (1) digital books allow annotation and (2) the iPad has a fully-supported pen interface, like tablet PCs have already accomplished.

  • Doc99
  • androonguyen

    Health care reform, cutting costs, etc – big themes these days.. Anyone interested in controlling unnecessary costs of medical education?? I already pay xx,xxx dollars a year for medical school, do I really want to pay for this too?

  • JF Sucher, MD FACS

    Require iPads? Really? I tire of so-called “technology advocates” blurting out battel cries for each new shiny bobble that bounces out the door. Not withstanding the shrill sounds that occur whenever Apple, Inc. sneezes. This kind of behavior continues to create nothing but waste and frustration.

    Let’s get our heads screwed on straight. Technology can be an extraordinary tool to help improve education. However, it’s just that… a tool. Texts still serve a great purpose. Anyone with a background in human factors understands that even eReaders have not come close to replicating the ease and convenience of paper (not yet).

    You claim to have many arguments for your proposal. Yet, you really only supply one.. that interactive-multimedia enhances learning. OK. I agree. It does. So does reading many texts. I have multiple textbooks on surgery. Why? Because each offers unique authorship with varying pearls of information.

    To state that the “average” medical student is probably tech-savvy is simply wrong. The “typical” medical student is rather tech-unsavvy, just like many people. Despite the last 4 decades of computing, I remain surprised how uneducated people remain in technology. I think that some people “get it” and some people don’t. It somehow revolves around interest in this area. Frankly, computers still remain overly complex for most people.

    Finally, why is there so much promotion for a single device? If you really understand technology, you will understand that you will need an open platform to allow for optimal dispersion and future growth. Focusing on the iPad, or any single device is not a long-term strategy. Finding how to leverage cross-platform, open source technology will be the more robust solution.

  • Prudence

    I love my books and even if I keep digital versions of it, I’d rather study using my books. There’s just something about having to make marks on it that can help you remember what you read. The multimedia, perhaps, can augment the learning. But I guess I’m still “old school”. Books will definitely go a long, long way.

    Also, if I were to choose between an iPad and a laptop/netbook, I’d go for the latter. For the same amount of money, I could get so much more.

  • Dr. Evil

    I managed to get by with some used NMS Board Review books…and a “Washingtons Manual” i stole, I mean bought, purely for show.
    and 5 yrs of old tests I bought from an Intern…did you know they recycle the same old questions??? Just like Solar Eclipses, they might change the wording a bit, but its still just another in the Saros cycle…

  • Christopher Hippolyte

    As a med school student and the type of person that is heavily invested in tech, having even programmed for NASA before entering medical school, I have to wholeheartedly disagree!

    The iPad is probably one of the worst possible form factors for school work and note taking. I have absolutely no interest in “finger painting” my notes, or slowly and awkwardly on a touch screen with a curved back plate. I’d much prefer a proper Windows Tablet running MS OneNote which allows full anotation of Powerpoints, PDFs, Webpages, ect. along with built in voice recording and allows full searches of text, image, AND voice.

    The iPad is a media consumption device, and not much more…

  • Christopher Hippolyte

    Addendum… It doesn’t even multitask, so you can even rule out jumping into an eBook/eTextbook, your notes, and Wikipedia. I reiterate, it is NOT a device for notetaking.

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