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Surgical performance in a virtual environment

May Y. Choi (Research Student at O'Brien Centre for the Bachelor of Health Science, Calgary, Canada)
Garnette R. Sutherland (Professor of Neurosurgery at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 25 September 2009




The purpose of this paper is to determine the effect of video game and surgical experience on the ability to adapt to and use the neuroArm virtual reality (VR) simulator.


A total of 48 participants, comprising video gamers, medical students, surgical residents, and qualified surgeons, were recruited. Subjects played three video games and completed a questionnaire. Three pre‐determined tasks simulating surgical procedures were performed using the simulator. Performance was measured by time for task completion, number of errors, and quality of outcome.


Gamers outperformed other groups on all measures of performance at almost every task on the VR simulator. All groups showed interval improvement in performance. As age of participants increased, irrespective of their sex and group, their quality of performance decreased and time to complete tasks increased. Initially, the men outperformed the women at every task, however, the difference decreased with repetition.

Research limitations/implications

More participants are needed to increase statistical significance of the results, in particular female participants.

Practical implications

This study showed that gamers adapted rapidly to the neuroArm trainer, which could be attributed to enhanced visual attention and spatial distribution skills from video game play. Therefore, visuospatial skills may become strong elements in the selection criterion for future generations of surgical trainees.


This study evaluated performance on the neuroArm trainer for the first time. The results provide insight into the design of a training program that helps select and prepare future surgeons for robotic surgery.



Choi, M.Y. and Sutherland, G.R. (2009), "Surgical performance in a virtual environment", On the Horizon, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 345-355.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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