Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, or the Nook for medical students

The e-reader battles are clearly heating up, with the Apple iPad, the aggressive marketing of the KindleApple iPad, Amazon Kindle, or the Nook for medical students and the Nook trying to sneak its way into the conversation. What does this mean for medical students? Should iPadsApple iPad, Amazon Kindle, or the Nook for medical students be mandatory in medical school?

Joseph Kim of Mobile Health Computing argues that it certainly should be, but I think the argument is not well formed. Of course we want medical students to have the latest whizbang technological gadgetry, but the real question is: what role will this technology play? For example, we could provide all medical students with electron microscopes during their study of histology, but clearly this would be ridiculous: the knowledge yield would not justify the cost at all.

So, let’s consider what we want our ereaders to do. Clearly, Kim wants a Swiss Army Knife type tool – a tool that lets students become fully engrossed with their study materials, interacting in a way that was never possible before. One can easily imagine an iPadApple iPad, Amazon Kindle, or the Nook for medical students with a digital cadaver, first years carefully “finger dissecting” away layers to reveal deeper structures, or sweeping their fingers to rotate and pan the images to see other angles. Because its digital, such anatomy could much more easily linked to its practical application in medicine via linked diagnostic images, intraoperative findings, and even path results.

But, is this what we really want? Or rather, is it the only thing we want? Clearly, even with all this neato technology, there is an ocean of information to absorb and comprehend in a limited amount of time. Sorry, first years, but you will still have to spend hours in the library pouring over textbooks. This is where the argument gets a bit murkier, primarily because of technological issues. The iPad is backlight; the Kindle is not. For medical students spending hours staring at text, the Kindle actually provides a much better user experience. And, imagine being able to carry the entire library in this one lightweight device! Yes, the iPad can do it too, but do you really want to read an iPad for that many hours?

The question of whether devices should be ‘required’ of medical students is not a new one. Ever since portable devices became popular, medical schools have struggled with whether to mandate that their students have a laptop, or PDA, or now, e-reader. Until technology advances far enough that we can have all the functions we desire in one device with a user interface we like, medical schools may be better off simply supporting the purchasing choices of their students without mandating any particular device. Let students choose how they like to learn, and what tools they want to use to accomplish that, and they will be the better for it.

“Scrub, MD” is a recent medical graduate and currently a resident physician who blogs at Scrub Notes.


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  • doc99

    You left out one other important consideration. Now that spring is around the corner, with the Kindle, you can sit outside in the warm sun and read. Trying doing that with the I Pad on a bright, sunny day.

  • Dr. J

    Ahh yes, they made us buy PDAs when I was in medical school, they were going to revolutionize everything. I think mine is still in a box in my garage somewhere. My hospital has a computer every 15 feet, why would I ever want to carry one around?
    I suspect that medical school will always involve studying huge amounts of material, and listening to long lectures. I doubt it makes any difference if you read the information on a computer, an ipad, a kindle or out of a paper book. Medical students will still have strained eyes, and strained brains.
    That’s my 3 inches (per the laws that have been decreed by the all might K—-)
    Dr. J

  • Michael Kirsch, M.D.

    Is there an ‘app’ for physicial diagnosis, bedside manner, compassion and clinical judgment?

  • jsmith

    This situation has been analyzed:
    “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at.” Thoreau, Walden, 1854

  • moviedoc

    Can you write on an iPad? Writing on a tablet PC with a stylus feels like writing on paper, and it doesn’t get in the way of connecting with the patient.

  • MH

    FWIW, I am a med student and I love my iPad. My daughter has a Kindle, and I can definitely say that the iPad experience is far better. Things my iPad can do that the Kindle can’t:

    1. Highlight PDF textbooks
    2. Full Color books and images
    3. Internet (UpToDate mostly)
    4. Medical Apps
    5. Stream my music library off my home PC while I’m reading a PDF book at Starbucks.
    6. Videos (mostly Kaplan, but Netflix too!)

    For starters. The kindle is better is bright daylight though, and cheaper, but far less useful.

  • medical blog

    Let’s trust our younger docs in waiting to figure out the best use of technology. One more mandate? I don’t think we need or want one.

  • soloFP

    Love my epocrates and internet access on my ipod touch. Waiting for Gen 2 for an iPad. My local hospitals have an iPad app that allows me to pull in my labs/studies and patient lists over the internet. Soon there will be an app to do my daily SOAP notes on inpatients.

  • Ramesh Hoysala shamarao

    my daughter is about to join medicine  m b b s   in  bangalore  india   ..
    willl  an e-reader  help her
    if  so , will it contain   anatomy  etc 
    which one  to buy

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