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Med students: Give us video games

In a survey of more than 200 medical students, 80 percent say computer games have educational value and 77 percent would participate in a multiplayer online health care simulator.

Eighty percent of medical students say computer games have educational value. Thomas Claveirole

They may have started with Atari or early Nintendo devices, but the majority of today's medical students grew up in a world with video games. "They are actually more comfortable in image-rich environments than with text," says Frederick Kron, a former medical educator and the president of Medical Cyberworlds.

And according to a survey of more than 200 medical students at the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin at Madison, 77 percent say they would participate in a multiplayer online health care simulator if said simulator helped them accomplish an important goal.

Moreover, a whopping 98 percent say they like the idea of using technology to enhance their medical education, and 80 percent say computer games have educational value. (Whether the schools' locations in places with long winters have any effect on affection for video games remains unexplored.)

The survey appears online in BMC Medical Education.

"Due in large part to their high degree of technological literacy, today's medical students are a radically different audience than the students of 15 to 20 years ago," says Kron, whose last name may remind some of the violent psychopathic half brother of Spider-Man 2099.

The link between medical studies and video games is neither new nor surprising. Several years ago, researchers found that doctors who played video games at least three hours a week made 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery, and even performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who did not play video games.

And a 2008 study out of Australia concluded that video games become more helpful as the material being learned grows more complex.

"Role-playing games may have special educational use to help students envision what their life would be like in different types of professional practice," says Michael Fetters, associate professor in family medicine and director of the Japanese Family Health Program at the University of Michigan.

Simulators and digital mannequins are already fixtures in med schools, and are likely to become more prevalent as studies and surveys like this one roll out. And hey, if I knew I was the first live patient my doctor was working on, I'd be more comfortable knowing she had practiced with video games in addition to the old-fashioned and one-dimensional textbook.