Video Game Players Beat Aspiring Doctors in Virtual Surgery

Whether it is the improved hand-eye coordination or better dexterity that comes from pushing buttons on game controllers for hours each day, a recent study from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston finds that even when pitted against surgeons in training, high-school and college-aged gamers came out on top in surgical skill exercises.

High school sophomores who played on average two hours of video games a day, and college students who played twice as often, were put against UTMB surgical residents in a head to head skill test using virtual surgical instruments. In the end, although the margin of victory was slight, it was the gamers who came out ahead. The outcome has some wondering if hours upon hours of practice common to medical students aspiring to the operating theater might not be better spent knocking out a nightly session of Grand Theft Auto.

The study used a machine that replicated surgeries–suture this, pass off that needle, etc. It then measured the users' competency based on how well they did the tasks, including the tension they put on their instruments and their overall hand-eye coordination. The high school students did best, followed by the college group, followed by the UTMB residents.

The gamers came out ahead even when both groups were run through an experiment that didn't use a robotic aid as was used in the first test. This particular approach tested cognitive abilities that differed from the first go. Once again, the gamers came out victorious.

Although it's not quite time to make an Xbox console standard equipment along with a stethoscope and a tongue depressor, the results do open up a new avenue for researchers looking for ways to train surgeons. This advantage of gamers over medical students could be attributed in part to the fact that few of the students ever had any experience with virtual surgery, nor was gaming as prevalent as it is now when when they themselves went through college.

Yet, as the generation that grew up with video games slowly makes its way into nation's medical schools, there's room to ask the question of how their unique set of experiences could be used to train better doctors.

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