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Harvard's Simulated Surgery Competition Motivates Residents To Practice More

Nick Dawson/Flickr


Surgery simulators--machines that allow medical students to practice manual skills--are expensive, so when Harvard Medical School noticed their simulators were rarely used, Dr. Price Kerfoot, associate professor of surgery, designed an experiment to see if he could get residents to use the machines more frequently. Taking a lesson from video game culture, his team announced a competition -- and the simulator saw an explosion of activity: Seven times more residents started using it and they clocked 17 times more practice sessions. "Surgical residents tend to be motivated by status and reputation," he says. "It can be one of the strongest motivators." 

Getting residents to regularly use a simulator is challenging because they have so much to do, Kerfoot says, but the training they can get from the machines is important. Surgical skills decline after just a short time without practice, and the machines can help surgeons prep for a forthcoming procedure. "Professional tennis players would not hit the court without warming up beforehand, so I think surgeons should do the same."

Photo: Nick Dawson/Flickr