Surgery is a classic example of a skill, like flying, where it is hard to get really challenging practice because of the potentially deadly consequences if you screw up — in surgery to the patient, and in flying to the pilot and anyone else on board. So virtual practicing becomes a particularly attractive option in these fields. The question then becomes, How effective is such virtual practice? Do it get close enough to the real thing to help people get better not just in the virtual world but in the real world?
In the surgical field, laparoscopic surgeries are some of the easiest to practice virtually because laparoscopic procedures require a surgeon to manipulate the instruments remotely rather than taking a scalpel and clamps directly to a patient’s body. A recent study involving students in several departments of obstetrics and gynecology tested the effectiveness of using a simulator to teach new doctors about performing laparoscopic hysterectomies.
In this study, gynecology residents were randomly assigned to two groups, one that received the usual training and another that received both the usual training and training on the laparoscopic simulator. Both groups improved in their knowledge about doing hysterectomies laparoscopically, but the improvement in the group that got the virtual training was more than twice the improvement of the other group.
What’s interesting to me is that the residents were tested on their knowledge about performing laparoscopic hysterectomies rather than on their skill in performing the surgery (probably because it’s a lot easier to test knowledge — all you need is a multiple-choice test). There’s no way to be sure, but I suspect that the difference in skill improvement between the two groups would have been even greater.
Read the abstract here. Reading the full article requires payment.