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#ElsevierHacks: Two days to change the face of medical education

Channelling the creativity of 60 young minds, the hackathon will take on challenges facing the world’s medical students

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Nathan Ratner shares his ideas for medical education with his medical school colleagues at the University of Minnesota. In August, he will compete in the #ElsevierHacks event at the Association of Medical Educators in Europe (AMEE) Conference in Helsinki, Finland. Also pictured, left to right: Shrikar Rajagopal, Augie Lindmark, Assistant Prof. Brooke Cunningham, MD, PhD, and Isaac Frans of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Hackathon updates

Throughout the hackathon we will be sharing updates and videos. Follow the action here as it unfolds.

Editor’s note: This month, Elsevier Connect is exploring “the creative face of science and medicine.” There is a creative side to the work being done by researchers, technologists, clinicians and medical students. With the ever-growing possibilities of technology, that creativity is being used to solve some of today’s toughest challenges.


Wherever they study, today’s medical students are in for a tough ride. Rapidly evolving information makes it hard to stay up to date, intense workloads can lead to burnout and attrition, and resourcing issues in the developing world create skills gaps.

The desire to tackle these challenges with technology – and the ingenuity of innovative minds –sparked an idea that will soon play out at a major medical conference.

Before the start of the annual Association of Medical Educators in Europe (AMEE) Conference in Helsinki August 25-27, Elsevier will bring together 60 young people from around the world to see how they tackle these kinds of challenges using the content and technology that powers the company’s clinical and medical education products. Students are coming from as far away as China, India, Brazil, Venezuela, the UK and the United States.

Nathan Ratner“Medical education is ripe for innovation,” said Nathan Ratner, a medical student at the University of Minnesota who will participate in the event. “Certainly here in America, it’s been essentially the same since 1910, when the Flexner report recommended two years of science, followed by two years of clinical work. Though committed educators have worked hard to make progress, the structure has been the same for more than 100 years. In technology, everything that once required a stationary PC and a mouse tethered to a hard-wired Internet connection now can be done with an iPhone. It’s time for medical education to make a similar advance.”

Changing the face of medicine isn’t easy, and it’s not something that can be accomplished in a day. Instead, Nathan will join 20 other medical students, 20 developers, 10 designers and 10 “wildcard” graduates at Elsevier Hacks 2017 and aim to meet this challenge in 48 hours.

Sounds impossible? To help them along the way, 10 teams of six – each comprising a mix of students, designers and programmers – will harness content and technology that drives platforms such as ScienceDirect and ClinicalKey. As Jeff Keating, Senior VP for Software Engineering at Elsevier, explained, this will prove a sizeable asset:

We’re giving some young, thoughtful minds access to some of the highest quality medical information and literature in the world. We’re giving them access to our powerful technology tools that will allow them to set context, make retrievals, and manipulate and display information. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do with this.

With great technology comes great responsibility

The importance of bringing the direct experience of medical students to these issues is not lost on the participants. Saloni Kapoor, a student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, sees it as a responsibility. “We’re the first generation of medical students with access to high speed internet and smart phones,” she said. “It’s on us to shape how technology will affect medical education.”

Ngar Wing Alice Leung, a medical student at Western Sydney University in Australia, said events like these are “an essential stepping stone in raising awareness amongst students, doctors and academic staff worldwide about the urgency for medical education improvement.

“The solution prototypes that will be created during this event will allow our creative ideas to be transformed into a reality, where they may impact not only students’ knowledge today, but their mental wellbeing, capability as future doctors and possibly even better outcomes for our patients,” she said.

Ratner, meanwhile, sees a need to focus on the stresses of medical education:

Honestly, the emotional burden and the burnout rate we’re seeing in young physicians is a key issue. That’s not leading to a healthy system – we’re already having physician shortages, so something needs to change.

Adaptive learning is one example of the role technology can play in addressing this. For example, Elsevier’s personalized learning platform for nursing and health professions education “figures out” where each student needs the most support, tailoring quizzes and content accordingly.

“That can absolutely make a difference,” said Ratner, who suggested another possibility that could utilize adaptive technology: “One of the most interesting ideas I’ve heard is that rather than evaluating progress through medical education in terms of time, you’re evaluated in terms of competency. So rather than having to jump hurdles at two years or at four years, an institution can pass a graduate if they’ve determined that they are competent in the key areas. The issue with something like that is around standardization and evaluation, so a technology partner that provides a kind of educational content curation powered by machine learning can be a tremendous benefit.”

Other participants see the fast pace of change as being one of the biggest issues. “A 2007 analysis showed that the lifespan of medical knowledge is about 5.5 years,” explained Alexis Guédon, a medical student from the Université de Nantes in France. “By the time we graduate, it could be even shorter. Some of the things I learned at the start of my course could be outdated by now – but imagine a computer that could be updated every second, give everything that’s instantly available. We can’t compete with that, but we can refocus medical education to focus on what humans can bring to medicine alongside that.”

To help them realize their ambitions, the 10 hack teams will receive coaching from Elsevier’s product and technology experts, and the company will field its own team of hackers, attempting to solve a faculty challenge that relates to teaching. As Jan Herzhoff, Managing Director of Education at Elsevier, explained:

Technology is enabling us to transform the way medical educators teach and the way medical students learn and prepare for becoming great doctors. Events such as the Elsevier Hackathon provide great opportunities to foster creativity and innovation and arrive at tangible solutions. We believe that is our duty as global leader in medical education to lead the way in advancing medical education leveraging these new technologies.

What’s more, Elsevier’s staff will be helping equip the hackers with the means to take some of these projects forward. “We will be talking to participants about how to pitch and develop their work, and we have representatives from the start-up community talking about what they want to see when taking a project forward.”

A meeting of new minds

By providing a platform to tackle these challenges, the hackathon will bring people together unbound by the barriers of geography or subject discipline. As Herzhoff said:

While the challenges that medical education faces are global, it is key to support global product development with local customer understanding and local content.

The hackathon is an opportunity to spark creativity by uniting people from different environments and disciplines. As Keating explained, this approach is similar to the one we take in product development at Elsevier: “What we see is that it takes input from many contributors to really solve a problem that delights a clinician and meets their need,” he said. “When you have an item that needs to be delivered on, there’s a really big difference in delivering it to 80 percent and delivering it to 99 percent.”

That 19 percent, Keating said, is the difference between a product that’s merely functional and one the user will love. “You can’t get close that gap without listening to the end user explaining what they need and how it’s going to be used. It goes a long way.”

For the participants, this approach forms a major part of the appeal. As Ratner said:

I’ve never heard of this kind of interaction happening outside of this event. To get in the room with people who are living in countries with fundamentally different healthcare systems and hear about those different perspectives on medicine – I can’t imagine how mind opening that it going to be.

Watch a video about Elsevier Hacks

The creative face of science and medicine

ElsevierHacks banner linking to Empowering Knowledge pageThere is a creative side to the work being done by researchers, technologists, clinicians — and those who aspire to be. With the ever-growing possibilities of technology, that creativity is being used to solve some of today’s toughest challenges. It also takes creativity to develop the tools and technologies that solve challenges for these students and professionals.

At Elsevier, we see that creativity every day in our employees and those they collaborate with in the world of science and health. Together, we create products and services that enable professionals and aspiring professionals to realize their inspirations and aspirations. For healthcare, ClinicalKey's intuitive search engine lets medical professionals quickly distill evidence-based answers from a massive database of clinical conten. And Sherpath gives students in nursing and the health professions a personalized learning experience by detecting their areas of weakness and providing relevant content and assessments.

Acknowledging the creative face of science, technology and medicine empowers us to advance these fields and improve our performance for the benefit of humanity.

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