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From Gamers to Doctors?

New research shows that surgeons could learn a thing or two from video-gamers.

By Sara Goudarzi

Robotic surgery requires doctors to use their hands and keep an eye on a monitor, similar to playing a video game. (istockphoto.com)  

Do video games rot your brain? Not really—even if some adults like to say they do. In fact, some skills gained from playing video games can actually help your brain. A new study suggests young gamers perform better than medical school students in robotic-surgery simulations.

Researchers wanted to see if the skills video gamers develop are useful for surgery—especially robotic surgery, which uses computers to perform precise movements during difficult operations. Just as video games require players to have good hand-eye coordination, robotic surgery requires doctors to simultaneously use their hands and keep an eye on a monitor. Robotic systems then carry out the movements that human hands would do.

“The inspiration for this study first developed when I saw my son, an avid video-game player, take the reins of a robotic-surgery simulator at a medical convention,” says Sami Kilic of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “With no formal training, he was immediately at ease with the technology and the types of movements required to operate the robot.”

Kilic and his colleagues compared the robotic-surgery simulation skills of medical-school residents with those of high school and college students who spent two to four hours each day playing video games. In tasks like passing a needle or lifting instruments with a robotic arm, gamers had equal or better hand-eye coordination and hand skills than the medical students. The researchers found that gamers who played up to two hours of video games per day performed best.

Studies like these may help medical schools develop new ways to train future generations of surgeons, Kilic suggests.

“As we see students with enhanced…hand-eye coordination that are a result of the technologically savvy world they are immersed in,” Kilic says, “we should rethink how best to teach this generation.”

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