Medical students may soon be able to trade in their heavy textbooks for lighter, more portable editions.

The Georgetown University School of Medicine is considering adopting Apple iPads and electronic textbooks as substitutes for traditional paper copies of required course materials. According to Dr. Steven Schwartz, associate dean for clinical informatics, the move would save students the money required to print readings and lecture slides while giving them the option to reach their notes virtually.

“[The student] is able to access the educational pieces he needs in smaller nuggets of information,” Schwartz said.

Integrating iPads into the curriculum would add the device to the multitude of other innovations — including SMART Boards, Lecture Capture and audience response systems — already used throughout the School of Medicine.

While the medical school has utilized handheld computers since 2002, the school required it as of 2005. After receiving positive input from students, the school went on to require second-year students to own an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or a device that uses the Android platform.

“The stereotypical images of medical school students or doctors are people who wear white coats with pockets stacked with papers and carry heavy loads of books in their hands,” Schwartz said. “However, now a hand-held device will get them everything they need.”

Schwartz noted that, according to the Georgetown University Medical Center graduate student questionnaire — a survey issued to recently graduated seniors — students have become increasingly comfortable using point-of-care applications for medical references and decision support in front of patients. He added that Georgetown medical students in particular used the technology with more ease than those at other schools.

“Medicine is a profession that constantly changes and evolves. After graduating, students might find half of what they’ve learned was wrong and the other half outdated by the time they start practicing,” Schwartz said. “They need to be able to continuously learn and continuously answer questions with the most updated information.”

Schwartz pointed out that medical students often do not receive enough training in using electronic records and prescriptions. He believes that smaller lessons available on phones and tablets can help solve the problem.

“It is important for students to be trained early to become familiar with hand-held devices, because using them effectively can prevent medical errors and ensure patients’ safety,” Schwartz said.

Brooks Culotta (COL ’13), who has been accepted to Georgetown Medical, said he is excited to engage with the new educational tools.

“It’s a good opportunity to start using technology at the point of learning,” he said. “It’s good to see that they’re trying to stay on the cutting edge. It’s definitely heartening to see that they’re investing in modern technology.”

Janet Russell, associate director for science programs and instructional technology at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, agreed that if used well, technological devices like the iPad and SMART Boards can benefit students immensely.

“SMART boards allow temporal appropriateness,” Russell said, “Students can see how everything is played out.”

Russell explained that the medical school uses more of these technologies than the undergraduate schools because of its defined curriculum, which makes it easier to integrate such tools.

“In the main campus, you have a broad array of disciplines, so we only see some people spread across different disciplines using these devices,” Russell said.

Schwartz also attributes the wide use of technology to its strong advocates in the medical school.

“Most tools the [medical] school uses can also be used on the main campus,” Schwartz said. “You must be willing to experiment and take some risks and learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Correction: This article initially cited a GUMC report and study. The report was in fact the medical center’s graduate student questionnaire.

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