Technology has taken medical school teaching tools to a new level. Students can listen to lectures on their iPods and practice on virtual reality patients. But a new study conducted by a researcher at University of Michigan’s Medical School found that technology has not been able to create a robotic replacement for the real-life student-teacher experience in surgery.

The study points to a powerful, but often overlooked, tool for influencing students’ attitudes about their surgical training in school. Peter Ehrlich, M.D., MSc., an associate professor of paediatric surgery, and colleagues found that the quality of the student-teacher interaction was the main reason behind a positive experience during the clinical training portion of the curriculum.

“What I really learned from this study is that what students wanted 20 or 30 years ago and still want today is for instructors to interact with them. Even with all the modern day technology in teaching tools, nothing can replace face-to-face contact,” says Ehrlich.

Students were more likely to recommend a rotation to other students and enjoyed their experience more if an instructor spent time with them, challenged them to think, provided useful feedback, and had a positive attitude toward students and teaching.

“It didn’t matter if subjects were male or female, or if they had any previous career interests in surgery; what really made the difference was whether teachers spent time with them,” says Ehrlich.

The study also found that students listed medicine and surgical subspecialties as their most common career interests and one quarter of the participants had a pre-existing interest in surgery. According to Ehrlich, this stresses the importance of clinical training in attracting students to a surgical career, since there is a sizable pool of potential surgeons.; Source: University of Michigan Health System