Surgery students spend so much time swiping on flat, two-dimensional screens that they are losing the ability to perform simple tasks necessary to conduct life-saving operations, such as stitching and sewing up patients. As a result, students have become less competent and confident in using their hands—leading to very high exam grades despite a lack of tactile knowledge.
Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, argues that two-dimensional flat screen activity is substituting for the direct experience of handling materials and developing physical skills. Such skills might once have been gained at school or at home, by cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork, or holding an instrument.
Kneebone now notices that medical students and trainee surgeons are not comfortable cutting or tying string because they don’t have practical experience developing and using these skills. He also mentioned that colleagues in various branches of medicine have made the same observation.
In secondary schools in the UK, many of the activities that taught people how to be skilled with their hands—woodwork, cooking, painting, performance art—are now optional in the central curriculum. Kneebone argues that the decline in hands-on creative subjects at school and practical hobbies at home means that students often do not have a basic understanding of the physical world.
The government pays lip service by saying creative subjects are important, but its policies demonstrate otherwise. The way school performance is measured tends to push schools to focus on core academic subjects, to the detriment of arts and creative subjects. Since 2010, the offering of creative subjects has fallen by twenty percent in UK schools, according to a report by the Edge Foundation.
Young people need to have a more rounded education, including creative and artistic subjects, where they learn to use their hands. Spending hours engaged in virtual worlds is no substitute for experience in the real world. Subjects like music, art, and drama are vitally important for young people and children to develop imagination, resourcefulness, resilience, problem-solving, team-working and technical skills. These are the skills which will enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future.
Beyond articles published in the UK by the BBC, the Guardian, and the Independent, this story appears to have received no news coverage by US corporate media.
Sean Coughlan, “Surgery Students ‘Losing Dexterity to Stitch Patients,’” BBC News, October 30, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/education-46019429.
Matthew Weaver, “Medical Students ‘Raised on Screens Lack Skills for Surgery,’” The Guardian, October 30, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/30/medical-students-raised-on-screens-lack-skills-for-surgery.
Sarah Young, “Surgery Students Losing Dexterity to Sew Due to Smartphone Usage,” The Independent, October 30, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/surgery-students-dexterity-smartphones-keyboards-screens-craft-skills-stitch-roger-kneebone-a8608201.html.
Student Researcher: Juliet Romero and Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)