January happens to be Thyroid Awareness Month. If you heard this and went in search of thyroid information, you’d likely end up on Wikipedia. There, you’d find the article for thyroid disease, which was heavily expanded during Dr. Amin Azzam’s Fall 2016 course for fourth year medical students at UCSF. That article has been viewed 26,778 times since these students added to it.
Did you know that January is also Cervical Health Awareness Month? Other students in Amin’s class expanded the article on vaginal discharge, which has now been viewed 30,458 times since. And hey — the last week of January is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. A student in Amin’s Spring 2017 course contributed to the article on opioid use disorder. And that article has since been viewed 82,818 times.
Our point is: students in our program are contributing highly relevant information to a public resource that millions of people are accessing around the world.
The public looks to Wikipedia for medical information
We’ve written about the impact of teaching with Wikipedia in a medical classroom before. Wikipedia is the leading source for health information on the web; it gets more traffic on medical articles than sites for the NIH, WebMD, Mayo Clinic, NHO, or WHO. So we really want to make sure that information is accurate. Wikipedia has strict guidelines for sourcing when it comes to medical information on the site to safeguard against misinformation. Still, there are always content gaps to fill. That’s where students in Wiki Education supported courses come in.
Benefit of med students contributing to Wikipedia
Medical students who complete a Wikipedia assignment are in a unique position to disseminate important health knowledge. They have access to great sources and experts in their field. They are also more likely to remember what it was like not knowing this information and therefore have an ability to present complicated medical topics in a clear, understandable way. As Dr. Amin Azzam has said before, they’re far enough along in their medical training that they have the confidence to share their expertise, but they’re not so far along in their careers that “they can no longer speak English.”
Not only are medical students uniquely positioned to contribute to Wikipedia for the benefit of public knowledge, but they gain a lot from a Wikipedia assignment as well. Learning to contribute to, and therefore understand the inner-workings, of a resource they use all the time provides valuable media literacy skills.
According to a study recently published in the JMIR Medical Education journal, medical students often look to Wikipedia for health information themselves. In the study, those who used Wikipedia to learn new concepts “had superior short-term knowledge acquisition compared with those who used a digital textbook.” Ultimately, it concludes:
“This study challenges the view that Wikipedia should be discouraged among medical students, instead suggesting a potential role in medical education.”
Engaging with a resource that both these students and the public are relying upon for health information is a beneficial experience for students.
“My students realized just how many people turn to Wikipedia for health-related information, which motivated them to work much harder than a traditional ‘throw-away’ assignment,” one instructor said in their survey response from last fall.
Check out videos we made in collaboration with UCSF faculty about why they choose to teach with Wikipedia.
What this means for public knowledge
In a previous post of ours, How Wikipedia is unlocking scientific knowledge, Classroom Program Manager Helaine Blumenthal speaks to the impact of a Wikipedia assignment in the sciences:
“When individuals have access to accurate information, they are presented with a world of possibility and choice. … With every contribution our students make, the gap between scientific expertise and public knowledge shrinks, but those students also walk away with a lifetime ability to communicate highly specialized knowledge to a general audience. Whether they choose to pursue careers in the sciences or not, they understand the importance of sharing knowledge, the ability to do so, and with Wikipedia, the forum to make it all happen.”
For information about editing medical articles on Wikipedia, see our free brochure resource. We also helped to develop a new video for people editing medical topics on Wikipedia. If you’re interested in teaching with Wikipedia, visit teach.wiki.edu or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.