(From the E-i-C: This is an invited post from a 4th year medical student from the University of Manchester as part of our Liminal Space series. If you have a point-of-view as someone in the midst of transition in health professions education, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org )
During a problem-based tutorial last year, our tutor observed us speaking to each other from behind our screens, and asked a question familiar to us:
‘Would you survive without your computers? Back in our day…’
Why did I feel slightly ashamed? I had no real answers at the time, so decided to explore this feeling by reflecting on my experiences, mining the medical education literature, and drawing upon the influence of a prescient media studies teacher from high-school who taught his classes to value how information was becoming democratised via the Web 2.0.
I wondered: what made paper notes and physical textbooks intrinsically better than our instantly gratifying and spoon-feeding search engines?
I’m a student in Manchester, one of the largest medical schools in England. Our cohort is extremely diverse – we speak at least 25 different tongues amongst ourselves – yet united by our constant and intimate connections with our devices. Manchester even gives us iPads when we enter our clinical years and disperse off-site into 4 different regional teaching hospitals – but why?
After all, if hearsay is to be believed, these devices have been to the detriment of our social skills and attention spans.
So, will our generation make for dimwitted and disinterested doctors? Have our minds and attention spans softened through our semi-automated processes of typing and siphoning images off the Internet into notes which are legible, organised neatly in folders, available to us over cloud-based devices, protected for posterity, and instantly searchable by keywords?
Whilst depending on pen and notebook for days at the hospital, I find myself in-situ navigating a screen for information. Have we become over-dependent on software? I’ve had a colleague remark that it was pointless going to theatre, because he could watch operations in better detail on YouTube. I’ve met students who never show up to lectures, preferring instead to play them back in a computer lab at their leisure. I don’t necessarily agree with these attitudes, but can understand where they come from.
I have 91 textbooks on my computer that I carry around with me and can read anytime without weighing my bag down. My friends and I surreptitiously trade books and notes over hard-drives. If I miss a lecture, there’s always a brilliantly written Lancet Seminar to read. 87 links to repositories, Wikis, notes, YouTube channels, and podcasts, are stored in a folder labeled ‘eLearning’ on my browser. I use at least 4 smartphone applications regularly, one of which entails case-sharing between a network of medics worldwide, and have a BNF, clinical calculator, microbiology reference, and Snellen chart built-in. I discovered my most profound elective opportunity on Twitter. Theses attributes are not unique or special – this is the norm.
Student societies communicate interest lectures, conferences, and revision days, over Facebook. At Manchester, our research society has even developed its own open-access student journal, available online. Most medical journals have a social media presence, and so I integrate notifications of news, articles, and podcasts into my interactions with friends.
As a student at one of the handful of hospitals in England that has entirely transitioned to an electronic interface – integrating clinical notes, results, letters, and PACS – and after experiencing the inverse at district generals, I appreciate what this has done for efficiency of care, sanity of staff, and for our education.
I’m a bookworm, but believe that the computer can be crowned the more accessible library. In the end, literacy has little to do with paper itself. There is always a danger of not appraising the quality of information available to us critically, but again, this has little do with the medium.
‘My children spend all day glazed over their mobile phones,’ remarked one of my favourite general surgeons, ‘But if you’re going to look at your phones, there’s a lot of good stuff on YouTube.’
We type, Google, tag, and share, reflexively. Information-seeking, categorisation, meme production, and taking the path of least resistance, are integral elements of our generational skill-set. These caricatures do not explain what we do with these technologies. Medical education has transitioned; today, we are less scientists, and more grapplers of large volumes of information. To cope, we’ve evolved and moved forward with the tools and languages we have come to know well.
A medical student in 2017
P.S. Thanks to this article – much-needed positive press release for ‘Generation Why’.