I listened to a report on NPR this morning that reported that playing Nintendo’s Wii games helped surgeons perform better at doing operations. This was from a small study of eight surgical residents in training who ‘warmed up’ for 30 minutes prior to a virtual operation compared to a group that did not. By playing Wii games prior to ‘surgery’, that group had a 50% better performance.
I must say I am not surprised. Just like athletes, from golf to basketball, who have been trained to mentally think through their shots, strokes, and other repetitive movements, preparation before any physical event is helpful. It is very useful to think of surgery as an athletic event. Preparation involves more than just reading about it, you must see yourself actually performing it and repetitively in your mind go through the steps of the operation. When I was in my infancy in plastic surgery, I watched videotapes (before CD and DVDs were available) from masters in plastic surgery performing the operation I was going to do. The most beneficial thing of those tapes was to see and memorize the surgical movements that they did. I would review them over and over until I could replicate in my mind the flow of the operation. Then, when it came to surgery, I already had a sequence and rhythm and I was never ‘lost’, so to speak. In a roundabout way, that is what Wii games was doing. While it wasn’t teaching the steps of an operation, it was activating and sharpening fine hand-eye motor skills for the upcoming event. I suspect that if Wii modified some of its programs for surgery, this would really be a good training tool for much of medicine.
That being said, just because you have heightened one’s motor skills doesn’t necessarily make one a good surgeon. Entering my 27th year after I began my surgical training, I have come to appreciate that how to do an operation is just part of being a good surgeon…and may not be the most important part. Knowing when to do an operation and what type of operation to do given the problem supersedes an operation’s execution. A brilliantly performed surgery that is not necessary or can’t solve the problem……makes one a poor surgeon. Or at the least, not a good one. The right operation at the right time, even if only performed at an ‘average’ level, is better than the latter. This is something that no game can train one for.
Dr Barry Eppley