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Video Games May Increase Surgeons' Skills

Surgeon James Rosser started playing video games when he was in college in the 1970s and has continued playing them throughout his career. For many years, he wondered if his gaming improved his hand-eye coordination in the operating room. So, he decided to test his idea.

Rosser is a laparoscopic surgeon at New York's Beth Israel Hospital. He uses special instruments inserted into small incisions in the body. Unlike traditional operations, where the doctor can see the surgical site directly, Rosser guides his instruments based on images he sees on video monitors that display pictures sent from inside the body over a fiber optic link. He says it's not unlike playing a video game. "Video games require you to look at a video screen, and also laparoscopic surgery requires you to look at a video screen in order for you to accomplish all your tasks, and I think that is the common ground that they share."

Rosser surveyed 33 surgeons about their video game playing habits. Then he assessed their performance in a training course that tests surgeons on their skill and speed. "We found out that people who had played at least 3 hours a week in the past, they were faster and they also committed fewer errors than the people who did not have any video game experience," he reports. "And the people who were currently playing video games were also better than the ones not currently playing."

Rosser says video games could become a training tool to help laparoscopic surgeons become faster, more precise and more efficient. He says the data showed a strong correlation between video game skills and surgical efficiency, "more so than age, gender, being left handed, right handed, number of cases previously performed and that was shocking to me."

In the United States, the average teenager plays 12 to 15 hours of video games a week. But surgical skills improved after only 3 hours a week of play. So Rosser says parents of teenagers can probably to tell them to cut back on the video games without worrying that they're stifling a future medical career. The study appears in Archives of Surgery.