Want To Be A Better Surgeon? Play Video Games!

A study shows that playing video games may help students’ surgery skills.


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Video games have become more advanced since the days of Pong and Atari. They’re more interactive, allowing gamers to control the outcome of the game through their movements. Nintendo’s Wii forces players to stand up, move their arms and legs in such a way that the character on the screen does the same. But can video games really improve a doctor’s skills?

Heather Towle-Millard, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS believes that it does. In a study in human medicine, laparoscopic box trainers were used to test dexterity and psychomotor skills. The study revealed that participants “who played video games more than three hours per week had 37 percent fewer errors, were 27 percent faster and scored 42 percent better in the box trainer exercises than students who had no video game experience,” according to JConline. This led to the conclusion that perhaps playing video games improved the students’ laparoscopic surgery skills.

After learning of the study from colleague Lynetta Freeman, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, Dr. Towle-Millard wondered if conducting the study with veterinary students would produce the same results.

Because the laparoscopic box trainers are expensive (running about $50,000 each), instead of using them exclusively to test numerous students, Towle-Millard searched for other options. She needed a device that was easy to use, simple to set up, portable, and had controllers players could move three-dimensionally.

That device was the Nintendo Wii.

The study, which has been conducted twice, enlisted 29 third-year veterinary students at Purdue University to test their traditional surgical skills, spatial orientation and their abilities on box trainers.

The students selected were chosen based on their answers to questionnaires, which were designed to filter out those who were familiar with the games. The games – Beijing and London Olympic Games for Nintendo’s Wii – were chosen because of their close correlation to the skills necessary to utilize box trainers.

The results? "The main outcome of this study was that students who scored higher on the test video games also scored higher on the laparoscopic box trainers," Towle-Millard told JConline.

These skills could result in more minimally invasive veterinary surgeries.

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