Modern MedEd: Bringing medical students into the Wikipedia Sandbox

Laura Gardner laura.j.gardner@hsc.utah.edu

Abstract

Academic growth and career advancement for medical students often includes a contribution to the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Most patients will never have read a peer-reviewed research article regarding their health. One of the most viewed medical resources globally is Wikipedia, which contains medical content boasting over 155,000 articles written in 255 languages supported by more than 950,000 references. Medical students are often discouraged from using Wikipedia because of supposed inaccuracies. However, the majority of medical students and physicians access Wikipedia for health-related information, positioning them to contribute to Wikipedia for the benefit of both their academic community and their patients. Even so, the majority of medical students are unaware of how to begin to contribute to Wikipedia and medical schools remain unsure of how to incorporate this skill into the curriculum. I provide four approaches to incorporate Wikipedia contribution into the undergraduate medical curriculum:

1. Add a module to an existing course: Teaching students to contribute to Wikipedia applies to a variety of topics already taught, such as global health, public health, medical ethics, and medical humanities.
2. Host an information session: Because it can be difficult to add new content to an already robust curriculum, interested faculty could organize a two hour guided training. Conversely, interested students could distribute an informative tutorial in advance to a Wikipedia editing party.
3. Referral to expert in Wikipedia editing: Planning programs for students can often be onerous and time-consuming for faculty, staff, and students. To bypass the need for a formal student activity, a list of Wikipedia editors, such as medical librarians, could be compiled and distributed to medical students interested in 1-on-1 mentorship. After initial implementation, this referral system would be virtually self-sustaining.
4. Create a stand-alone Wikipedia elective: Elective courses provide a venue for specific objectives, increased depth of knowledge, and formal assessment. However, an elective course requires an enthusiastic faculty member willing to develop course materials for success. This process could be streamlined by adapting course materials from course commons and other published educational resources. Such an elective has been established at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Implementation of Wikipedia training for medical students may take many forms depending on the needs and environment of the medical school. Regardless, medical students will benefit by learning to relay complex medical information in a form that is valuable to the general population, a vital skill for physicians in practice.
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