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Medical Curricula in the Digital Age

With the increasing technological developments in our world, medical school curricula across the nation are undergoing major shifts. The days of rote memorization and textbook learning are now being replaced with digital interactions and high-tech education.

To keep up with the technologically advanced generation of students and rapid adoption of technology in healthcare, medical schools are now striving to digitize their curricula. These educational reforms are expected to better prepare medical students to practice medicine in the computer age.

Flipped Classrooms

In August of last year, Harvard Medical School announced that it would be implementing a “flipped classroom” style of learning in many of its courses. This meant that the professors would assign short lecture-based YouTube videos to the students before class, so that class time could be spent on discussions and collaborative problem-solving, rather than scripted lessons.

While this method of teaching has been executed in numerous undergraduate universities, it is relatively novel in medical schools.

“With the [flipped classroom], students got into more of a learning mode than a performance mode in class, meaning that they were rewarded for engaging in the learning process, not just for their test scores,” Dr. Richard Schwartzstein, the Director of the Academy at Harvard Medical School, said.

Although the “flipped classroom” has been shown to result in a stronger overall grasp of academic information, not all students are fans of this pedagogical shift. “There was a small minority of students who objected to learning things on their own […], something known as ‘effortful learning,’” Dr. Schwartzstein said. “But, it’s an evolving curriculum and a change in culture for many of our students. The first year always has its ups and downs.”

Virtual Dissections

Many medical schools are also veering away from traditional cadavers, in favor of digital Anatomage anatomy tables. These tables are, in essence, large touch-screen tablets that can display lifelike anatomical images of the human body, in addition to medical imaging scans. With a few swipes of the finger, these “virtual cadavers” can be dissected, so to speak, revealing the muscles, bones, organs, and disease within the body.

Because these cadavers are digitized, they can be manipulated to present any desired disease or condition. Additionally, unlike cadavers, the anatomy tables offer an additional level of convenience, as they do not require extraneous chemicals or facilities to preserve or store them.

Stanford University School of Medicine was one of the first institutions to adopt the digital anatomy tables into its curriculum. The table is currently being used in anatomy, physiology, and pathology classes, as well as numerous dissection labs. However, it acts as a supplement to traditional cadavers, rather than a replacement.

While the anatomy tables undoubtedly offer tremendous benefits to medical education, many administrators still feel that the true mastering of medical skill can only be attained through authentic, real-flesh cadavers.

“The virtual anatomy table is a very powerful tool that […] can help clarify certain concepts that are difficult to understand. But I don’t see it, in any way, replacing the cadaver,” Dr. Sakti Srivastava, Associate Professor of Surgery and Division Chief of Clinical Anatomy at Stanford University School of Medicine, said. “Cadaver dissection gives [students] a very rich experience; it’s not only about structure in terms of size, shape, and location, but also in the consistency and feel of the body, as well as the ability to take tissue apart. That gives you a deeper kinesthetic learning of anatomy […] that the virtual table cannot offer”

Medical Holograms

Medical holograms are emerging in medical schools across the nation as a means of visualizing the human body three-dimensionally.

With the help of specialized goggles, medical holograms display a 360° view of a virtual human body. Similar to the Anatomage tables, the holographic images can present any layer or organ system of the body; however, unlike the dissection tables, the hologram technology can three-dimensionally showcase these functioning organs in relation to the other parts of the body. Hence, these holograms can help medial students comprehend the inner workings of the body at a deeper level than any textbook figure can.

As the holograms are virtual three-dimensional models, medical professors can also perform small scale medical procedures on the images, such as inserting an IV line, in a classroom full of students.

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine was the first medical school to begin incorporating holograms into its curriculum. Through Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, Case Western administrators are hoping to integrate hologram use in medical school classes, as well as residency training to help make teaching a more interactive and visual process.

In our progressively digital world, technology will continue to make medical education more efficient, accessible, and perceptible. However, it is up to us to balance these technological advances with traditional learning techniques in order to best prepare medical students for their transformation into physicians.

“The movement towards digital education is great, and I think it will continue to pick up momentum,” Dr. Srivastava said. “But, the whole field of medicine is about human to human interaction, and in the realm of technology, we shouldn’t lose the humanistic side of medicine.”

Anokhi Saklecha

Anokhi Saklecha

    Anokhi is an editorial intern at MedTech Boston and a student in the Medical Scholars program at the University of California, San Diego. She is extremely passionate about journalism and science and hopes to combine them in her future as a physician. In her free time, Anokhi loves dancing, baking, and hanging out with her friends.

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