Could Video Game Players Make Better Surgeons?

By Tracy Hampton, PhD, BIDMC Correspondent
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Today’s young surgeons grew up during a time when video games first became popular–when arcade video games, gaming consoles, and home computer games were a major staple of entertainment for many children and adolescents. And video games continue to fill the free time of youngsters as well as adults today, although now they are often found on personal devices such as smart phones and tablets.

While older generations may see the hobby as a waste of time, research indicates that the “training” they received through video games may provide young surgeons with better skills and hand-eye coordination, particularly for robotic and minimally invasive surgeries.

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A study by Dr. James Rosser, Jr. and his colleagues showed that surgical residents and medical students playing specific video games actually did better on simulators that provided training for laparoscopic surgery. “When Dr. Rosser visited, he empowered my son with his article. Ryan, age 10 at that time, approached me with article in hand as he successfully argued for a X-box,” says Dr. Dan Jones, Chief of Minimally Invasive Surgery and Director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Rosser’s study found that surgeons who had played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37% fewer errors, were 27% faster, and scored 42% better on laparoscopic surgery and suturing drills than surgeons who never played video games. Recently, Dr. Rosser and his team showed that surgeons who completed “warm-up” sessions with select video games prior to performing laparoscopic suturing were faster and had fewer errors than surgeons who did not perform the “warm-up.”

“It makes sense. You are using an interface—such as a joystick or buttons—when you play games. With advanced laparoscopy, robotic surgery, or image-guided procedures, the surgeon is also interacting with an interface to treat the patient, and eye-hand coordination can be honed with practice,” says Dr. Jones. “The data is compelling—playing video games can make surgeons better. That’s not to say that reading and school work are not important too.”

So while video games are often given a bad rap—for potentially promoting aggressive behavior, decreasing social behavior, and lowering academic performance—it seems that some of the games can provide real benefits as well.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted: March 2013

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