Why Your Veterinarian Should Be a Gamer

Ken Tudor, DVM
Published: February 27, 2014
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Dog owners use many standards for choosing a veterinarian. For some it is a referral from a trusted friend. Others may choose based on bedside manner and pet treatment. Still others may choose because of location and proximity to home. But new research suggests that maybe you should choose a veterinarian who is an experienced video gamer. He or she may be a better surgeon!

How Veterinary Surgery Is Changing

Like human medicine, technology is changing the way veterinarians practice. More and more veterinarians are embracing laparoscopy for routine and specialized surgery. Laparoscopy allows veterinarians to perform abdominal and joint surgeries with minimal dissection. Small holes are made in the skin and the small cameras and tools of the laparoscopes are inserted. Surgeons then perform the procedure by manipulating controls on the laparoscope outside the body.

What New Veterinary Surgeons Need to Know

A very recent study showed that the skills learned from video gaming may be helpful to laparoscopic surgeons. Third-year veterinary students with video game experience participated in the study. In the first part of the study the students played three different video games they had never played before. In the second study phase, the students performed three surgical skills in laparoscopic simulators used in laparoscopic training of human doctors. The third phase consisted of three traditional surgical techniques. Finally, the students participated in a 3-D spatial analysis exercise.

Each student was scored based on skill performance and the time of completion for all four phases of the study. The study found that students with high gaming scores also had high scores for the laparoscopic simulators and 3-D spatial analysis. It appears that the fine motor skills, visual spatial processing, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and 3-D depth perception necessary for successful gaming are the same for successful laparoscopy.

This association has also been found in human physicians training for laparoscopy. Four studies of surgeons found a strong correlation between video game performance and laparoscopic surgical performance. Another study found that “surgeons who play more than 3 hours of video per week, make 37% fewer errors, are 27% faster and score 42% better overall during use of laparoscopic skill trainers [simulators] versus surgeons who have no video game experience.”

This and the other studies of physicians would suggest that if your veterinarian is considering adding laparoscopic equipment to the practice, make sure he or she is a gamer. On the other hand, if your veterinarian is more traditional in surgical practice, gaming is not a good predictor of surgical skill. This study found that high scores for gaming did not correlate with better scores for performing traditional surgical techniques. The researchers concluded that more studies were necessary to determine methods for improving the training for traditional surgical skills.

Presently surgical training for veterinary students is extremely variable and dependent on the veterinary school attended. Hopefully, studies like this one and those suggested by these researchers will help to make surgical training more standardized across the nation’s veterinary schools.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Thinkstock