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Is using guinea pigs a thing of the past?

Virtual reality goes mainstream for surgeons-in-training. Could it be that virtual surgery has a place for gamers, and not just professionals?

Wired weighs in on the ever-improving field of surgical simulators in its August issue. The obvious point of the story is that virtual reality is finally enabling us to take the guinea pig out of trial and error; any mistakes made by those in training will result in a failed grade, or a do-over, as opposed to the possibly nightmarish side effects that come with botched surgery.

A temporal bone surgery simulator at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Ohio Supercomputer Center

Also--and this reminds me of the main difference between playing poker on my computer versus at a table--virtual surgery happens a lot faster. With a strong cup of coffee and enough RAM, a surgeon-in-training could perform multiple heart surgeries in virtually (ha ha) one sitting.

But I see a trend emerging that the Wired article failed to hit on: virtual surgery has a place for gamers, not just professionals. Would I like to try my hand at brain surgery? Absolutely. Learn to mend a broken bone? Of course. And I'm not even (much of) a gamer. I discovered this potential cross-section of surgeons and gamers while watching virtual surgery videos on YouTube, and noticed commenters asking where they could get or play these surgery games.

Two possible scenarios--both equally entertaining--might ensue. More gamers will suddenly have useful medical skills at their disposal, while more surgeons will (perhaps inadvertently) hone their "gaming" skills. What if, when looking for a doctor, you could check his or her Surgery Simulator Score?

Yes, this sounds--and might also be--totally ridiculous, but wouldn't you want to know the virtual surgery score of the person about to open up some part of your body and try to make it all better? That just might mean a lot more than a good reference.