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It's game on at the Medical School

Medical student Alexander Doud, a past recipient of the Scott D. and Susan D.
Augustine Biomedical Engineering Research Fellowship, created a device that
aids in surgical training techniques. (Photo: Scott Streble)

To spur creative ideas for improving medical education, the Medical School came up with an unconventional approach: an Innovations contest that invited students, staff, and faculty members to submit their out-of-the-box ideas in an interactive, online forum.

Mark Rosenberg, M.D., vice dean for medical education, launched the Innovations contest last summer after participating in a similar nationwide contest when he was at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Rosenberg noticed that the VA contest sparked creativity and collaboration. He wanted to do the same at the U.

“We wanted to send a clear message to everyone involved in medical education — whether a student, resident, fellow, or faculty or staff member — that their ideas are valued,” Rosenberg explains. “The contest added a level of fun and gamesmanship to the process. Most important, it reinforced the need for a culture of innovation in medical education.”

In its inaugural run, the Innovations contest generated 76 ideas. Submissions from individuals and teams ranged from finding better ways to lead difficult end-of-life discussions to implementing smart-phone applications that enhance learning to integrating public health into the Medical School curriculum. Ultimately, four ideas were chosen for implementation (see box at right). These winning concepts are now being developed and put into action.

The 2014 edition of Innovations will kick off this spring with the goal of generating 100 creative entries focused on quality improvement.

Already an innovator

Among the winners was third-year medical student Alexander Doud, who, along with his classmates, developed a set of low-cost surgical trainers — called Medjules — that provide feedback to students on essential surgical skills.

Conceived by Doud and his peers as part of a course on new product design and business development, Medjules are mechanical devices that detect and log objective data about how well a student is performing a surgical task. Using the devices is somewhat like playing the classic game Operation, but the information is processed and uploaded to a computerbased interface that allows students and faculty to view results and track progress over time. Already, Doud and his classmates have created different Medjules for tying surgical knots, suturing, and operating laparoscopic instruments, which Doud is testing at a hospital in Uganda.

Doud, who earned an M.S. in biomedical engineering as part of the University’s joint M.D./M.S. degree program, aims to facilitate discussions between clinicians and engineers. He was involved in the development of a brain-computer interface that allows users to fly robotic devices with their minds. (The tool, designed by a group led by Professor Bin He, Ph.D., in the College of Science and Engineering, could have major implications for people with paralysis or neurodegenerative disease.) He also is chief technology officer at Synaptic Design, a company he cofounded that develops health care-related apps, devices, and workshops.

Doud’s take on the Innovations contest: “It’s an excellent opportunity to merge new ideas with curriculum development.”

By Lesley Schack, a writer and editor at the University of Minnesota Foundation

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