UCSF + Wikipedia: Improving Med Student Health Literacy Awareness

on October 5, 2013 Medical Education with 0 comments

I remember vividly the first few days of medical school, “Do not consult Doctor Google,” our professors (who long pre-dated the internet) ingrained in our head. Their concerns were that we were to become the experts — as we “drank from the fire hose” (colloquially what the first two years of medical school are referred to), we were to have an authoritative knowledge of basic sciences and medicine.

However, I too, remember my college economics professor saying once that the last time a human being had a grasp on every discipline of human knowledge may have been the 18th century.

That is, until there was Wikipedia.

Despite the reluctance of many educated people, Wikipedia has become the depository of all of the world’s knowledge. I mean, it has taken down the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The idea of a dynamic encyclopedia — one which changes literally within seconds as human knowledge changes — certainly excites some and scares others. Those that are scared are those who fear that, because of the openness of Wikipedia, anyone — regardless of their expertise — can update or add content. One can see why this would be concerning for expert physicians and professors.

600px-Wiki_Project_Med_LogoThis is why I am very excited for the efforts of programs like UCSF and Wiki Project Med Foundation. Rather than protesting the progress of rapid open access of human knowledge, these programs are emphasizing experts to take control of the validity of the information — by updating it themselves.

Furthermore, the effort aims to develop crucial skills for medical students: along with synthesizing complex information and contributing to the compendium of human knowledge, they also learn how to translate information from medical/science jargon into plain-speak, thus improving their health literacy awareness.

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Brandon H. Abbott, DO, MPH

Brandon is a third year internal medicine-pediatrics resident at the University of Buffalo. His interests, aside from hockey and music, include the intersection of patient safety and information technology.

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