Incoming UC Irvine medical students to receive iPads loaded with first-year curriculum

New technology initiative aims to revolutionize School of Medicine learning experience

August 03, 2010
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Traditionally, first-year medical students are awarded white coats to signify their entry into the medical community. But at an Aug. 6 ceremony, each member of the UC Irvine School of Medicine’s incoming class of 2014 will find a surprise tucked into the coat’s pocket: an iPad tablet computer loaded with everything necessary for the first year of course work.

As part of its new iMedEd Initiative, the medical school has developed a comprehensive, iPad-based curriculum, reinventing how medicine is taught in the 21st century and becoming the first in the nation to employ a completely digital, interactive learning environment for entering students.

“We are committed to using evolving technology to benefit the education of our medical students,” said Dr. Ralph V. Clayman, dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine. “It is our firm belief that a digitally based curriculum will be the wave of the future, and UC Irvine seeks to be a leader in the innovative presentation of information to students.”

According to Dr. Warren Wiechmann, the school’s director of instructional technologies, the iMedEd Initiative calls for eliminating the classic lecturer-passive listener model and putting everything students need to succeed in class at their fingertips.

The wireless, 16-gigabyte, 3G iPad features hundreds of medical applications; note-taking and recording capabilities; and many other tools to complement various learning styles. Students will be able to view short, topical lectures via podcast prior to meeting for small-group discussion. Not only do archived lectures make better use of faculty members’ time, they also facilitate interactive and self-directed learning.

Additional content includes course outlines and handouts, slide presentations and essential first-year textbooks in a digital format that allows highlighting and notation. Students will have access to audio and video libraries as well as podcasts. And technological advances such as digital stethoscopes and handheld ultrasound units are currently being configured.

“Our goal is to foster highly individualized and small-group learning for a richer medical school experience,” Wiechmann said. “The timing is right. Students are coming to us from top-tier schools where podcast and small-group learning is the norm for undergraduates, but most medical schools still teach in the traditional way.”

By saving paper, printing services and administrative time spent producing reams of handouts, he added, the iMedEd Initiative dovetails with UC Irvine’s efforts to be a “green” campus and could save money.

One example of the technology’s myriad interactive learning possibilities: An on-call neurosurgeon—regardless of location—could craft a 30-minute lecture via a webcam for students to watch online. They could review it as often as necessary and consult supplemental materials, including step-by-step videos, to clarify the lesson. When students meet with the neurosurgeon in an office, classroom or hospital setting, they can focus on specific cases to further augment the learning experience.

A second technological advance being incorporated into the curriculum on a pilot basis is the digital stethoscope, about a dozen of which are available for the incoming class. With applications on the iPad, students will be able to listen to a patient’s heart while simultaneously recording its tones and then compare them to a library of more than 3,000 heart sounds characteristic of specific conditions to gain a better understanding of cardiac physiology and pathology.

UC Irvine also aims to be a national leader in training medical students to use handheld diagnostic ultrasound devices, which could become a standard tool in the “black bag” of future physicians. To do this, the School of Medicine is working with diagnostic ultrasound maker SonoSite Inc., which is committed to integrating the technology into the medical school curriculum.

These highly sensitive ultrasound units offer an effective, noninvasive way to examine inside the body, said Clayman, a pioneer in developing minimally invasive, laparoscopic and robotic techniques for urological surgery.

Eventually students will be able to use their iPads to peruse video tutorials as they perform bedside ultrasounds and preserve a patient’s ultrasound for later review and consultation with supervising faculty members.

Such innovation is merely the tip of the iceberg, Clayman said: “In the future, physicians will literally carry a library’s worth of information on a tablet computer in the pocket of their white coat or suit jacket. The age of electronic medicine is upon us, and both patient and practitioner will benefit. UC Irvine’s iMedEd curriculum is a step in that direction.”

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UC Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UC Irvine contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UC Irvine news, visit news.uci.edu.

News Radio: UC Irvine maintains on campus an ISDN line for conducting interviews with its faculty and experts. Use of this line is available for a fee to radio news programs/stations that wish to interview UC Irvine faculty and experts. Use of the ISDN line is subject to availability and approval by the university.

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