Volume 96, Issue 20
Wednesday October 2, 2002

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Anyone want to play doctor

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Writer

Instead of playing the board game Operation, medical students now have a new way of practicing their skills.

A University of British Columbia professor has developed a patient simulation program that allows students to diagnose and treat diseases without ever breaking skin.

CyberPatient, a highly-detailed computer model of the human body, was conceived by Dr. Karim Qayumi, a professor of surgery at UBC. Qayumi said he felt a strictly textbook-based curriculum did not adequately prepare medical students for real-life situations.

"As an MD myself, I have always been puzzled by the way medical education was taught in schools," Qayumi said, adding the education process was "entirely backwards."

Student focus groups in Japan who used CyberPatient as a supplement to their studies scored higher on medical school tests than those who only used textbook materials as the basis of their education.

But Qayumi said the success of the focus groups should not be seen as a precursor to the end of textbooks. Instead, CyberPatient should be viewed as a "bridge between the theoretical and practical aspects of medical education," he said.

It should be used as a supplemental learning tool that will enhance a student's education, Qayumi added.

Beth Thorsteinson, manager of the Learning Resource Centre at Western, said although patient simulations have their place, currently used clinical methods are much more superior.

"There has to be a balance, but I would hate to see [CyberPatient] replace actual, live patients," Thorsteinson said.

Rahim Ladak, a third-year medical student, said the program sounds useful, but sees it as more appropriate for first and second-year students.

"It sounds like a good introduction to what real life medicine is all about," Ladak said, but agreed with Qayumi, noting the program would best serve as a supplement, not a substitution, for medical texts.

Qayumi believes CyberPatient shouldn't only be a resource to medical students.

"The [program] is flexible enough to bring it down to a Grade 12 level and as high as a fully certified doctor," Qayumi said, adding he also sees the program having low-cost applications in the developing world as a means to expedite basic medical training

"CyberPatient does not need a large infrastructure and its curriculum can be delivered over the Internet," he said.

The program's potential encouraged Qayumi to expand the pre-commercialization stage of the program to include 14 universities around the world.

Western is not currently on the list, Qayumi said, but added, "We'd love to have [Western] involved."

"If he's willing to share with us, we would be delighted to be involved," Thorsteinson said.

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2002 THE GAZETTE