Why Medical Students Should All Have iPads – Part 2

Modified from Hiroyu Oka (Gantz’ Chapter 55: Naked King, 2009)
Modified from Hiroyu Oka (Gantz’ Chapter 55: Naked King, 2009)

It has been a while since I last posted about “why should all med students have iPads,” it is about time to add some other facts to that.

Now that you have decided to invest in an iPad (or any other kind of tablet for that matter), what can you do with it?

For starters, what about having an entire medical library in your pocket? You could pull up the complete Gray’s Anatomy book with the touch of a button, not to mention the many apps available that feature highly detailed 3D human body models. Imagine yourself doing rounds during your internal medicine rotation and after an interesting case, you can immediately dig deeper on your digital copy of Harrison’s Principles of Medicine and build up on what you’ve just saw, then when it is still fresh in your head, no need to wait until you get home and maybe forget some details. Maybe you found an interesting research that you’d like to show your peers or your attending, pull it up in seconds, make annotations and share it with anybody.

Apps such as UpToDate will maintain the most current knowledge at the tips of your fingers, readily available to apply at the bedside. Medscape also has a vast knowledgebase that is updated regularly and it could be accessed through their app, turning it into a great resource for students during their clinical rotations. Epocrates is an amazing app to find out the appropriate dosing for patients (very useful during pediatrics rotations) and to check for any contraindications and interactions that could harm them. From a med school’s point of view, the Mac Configurator App embedded on the Ned iPad, essentially allows IT professionals within a hospital or medical school to remotely manage and configure a large collection of devices. It is perfect for the hospital or education environment where devices need to be quickly refreshed and kept up to date with the correct settings, approved policies, apps and data. Imagine a school where the latest and most current publications, chosen and curated by faculty are automatically transferred to all students, and during class the professor would say: “the new updates to the curriculum are being pushed to your devices as we speak.”

From another very different point of view, there have been reports of iPads being placed into the plastic bags used to cover the fluoroscopy heads and brought ino the OR for surgeons to use and they found that the iPad touch screen works quite well even while wearing gloves. There are even some covers that are now being commercially distributed. When in the OR, students could ask their attendings if it is ok to bring in their iPads. The student could search for the surgical technique beforehand and have pertinent anatomic images and radiologic studies ready for review. The surgeon could then show the student how is the anatomy in the atlas or radiology compared with the one he is seeing in the OR, as well as compare the video of the surgical technique he searched with the current surgery. This is a highly enhanced learning experience. The student could also take pictures and show them later to nervous family members so they know exactly what has been done (and if authorized he could try to explain what he just has learned).

This is a whole new method for learning and I believe that it is enormously better. Interactive learning is much more effective than traditional lectures and didactic education. I am quite certain that the average pre-med student is probably tech-savvy, is active in social media and has seriously considered investing in an iPad or smartphone (if he doesn’t already own one). We need to take advantage of these qualities and enrich their education with the tools that they know how to use and master.


The ball is at your side of the court: If you could create an app that could effectively enhance medical learning, how would it be?


  1. I agree that students having iPads is a great idea — in theory. But despite the fact that it is smaller than your usual computer, an iPad is not ergonomically great to use. At Stanford, students have been given ipads to use both in preclinical years and while on the wards and it really offers no advantage. No one wants to carry around their ipad on the wards, it’s heavy, bulky, doesn’t really fit into your white coat conveniently and for practial use requires wifi which few hospitals offer (unless you have a 3G then you don’t have to worry about it). Students also worry about leaving it somewhere where it can get stolen or misplaced in a patient’s room or just an inconvenience when trying to talk to patients and they want to play with your new tool too or prevent you from building rapport because you’re playing with it. A smart phone is a much better resource in this environment even if you can’t ‘see as much’. In order for ipads to succeed in the hospital environment, we need to think about how people actually work now and make it fit better, OR, change the way we work to fit better use of technology.

  2. Hi Stesha, I agree that the iPad is not ergonomically designed to fit best for a clinical setting and that a smartphone would be better at addressing this point, but neither was the first echosonogram machine for instance, and now we even have portable ones!

    There are many other tablets that are smaller than an iPad and fit your coat better than all of the “pocket manuals” that many students carry around and I don’t think they leave these manuals laying around or loose them that much. The wifi thing may still be an issue, but we just need to push for hospitals and med schools to provide better access.

    Regarding the rapport topic, there is currently much debate about this, but I think that it really depends on the student’s or doctor’s attitude, you shouldn’t be “playing” with your tool in front of a patient, you’re using it to actually help your patient or to get a better education if you’re not in front of a patient at that time. There are many patient education apps that actually enhance doctor-patient relationship.

    I guess that my point is that we need to get the future medical generation immersed into new technologies so that wen the time comes, they are the ones creating the innovation that we need. I think that we don’t need to change the way we work just to force it to fit for a certain current technology, I believe is the other way around, every now and then, new technology appears and creates enough disruption to change the way we work for the better.

    Keep pushing forward!


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