Sunday, August 01, 2010

Should iPads Be Mandatory For Medical Students?

The e-reader battles are clearly heating up, with the recent introduction of the Apple iPad (color!), the aggressive marketing of the Kindle with newer models, and the Nook trying to sneak its way into the conversation. What does this mean for medical students? Should iPads 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 iPad 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.

Updated 2015-12-20


  1. I've been talking about the trend for mobile technology in our new Med Student blog ( I think the trend towards providing iPads for incoming medical students, such as Stanford, is beneficial. I do agree that I wish the iPad was more in line with tablet technology, but if Apple would ever combine the two function it would be increasingly helpful.

  2. Great thoughts about the future of medical education as we know it. I'm sure school will follow suit to as the private applications become more and more integrated in how real medicine is conducted. Young physicians entering the field now are part of the millennial generation, who fear no device. They can pioneer a whole new generation of uses for the iPad-like tool. I'm happy to be a straddler of the generation gap. I love my apple products, but a good ol' blue pen and paper have their place in my heart. We shall see.




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