When I was a medical student at the University of Vermont, having a Wikipedia administrator as a med school classmate had it perks. For one, Dave Iberri is a genius – a whiz at embryology and physiology – and he made everyone around him smarter through the weekend course reviews and study sheets he created for his classmates. But it was his idea to start a wiki for med students here that spawned an innovative collaborative learning experiment, one that eventually led to a journal club app used by physicians and med students around the world.
The wiki began with a simple premise: How can students contribute to study sheets and course reviews, and in the process learn by doing? Emailing around reviews can be problematic — what if there’s new information to be added? What if there is a typo? Wiki technology solves this problem: It allows for user edits to be made directly to a webpage through any web browser. Want to make a new document? Just hit “New.” Want to expand on another user’s content? Maybe correct a typo? Just hit “Edit” and get to work! Changes are displayed instantaneously. If an error is introduced, reverting to a prior version is easy since the wiki saves every edit.
Jill Jemison and Darcy Pientka with the College’s technology services team saw the excitement of our class and — with Dr. First’s enthusiastic blessing — installed a course wiki for us on the Blackboard-powered curriculum website. It was a hit! For those of us who contributed heavily to the wiki’s content, there was the amplified learning effect. Being responsible for the material meant that it just stuck.
Dave and I temporarily parted ways in 2010 — I was finishing up my year as a student pathology fellow and he was leaving Vermont to start his internal medicine residency at Stanford. A year later when I was an internal medicine intern at Georgetown, we recounted how innovative the wiki was for medical education.
If it worked so well for our class, could it work for other medical learners?
Dave and I saw an opportunity in the teaching of evidence-based medicine. We noticed that certain landmark trials were brought up time and again to discuss important topics in medicine. However, no website had systematically catalogued, reviewed, and critiqued these trials.
In September 2011, we started a free wiki on a Wikispaces. Shortly thereafter, we went “big time” and built our own server on the cheapest budget cloud hosting service we could find (that seemed to have as much processing power as a graphing calculator). It ran the same durable MediaWiki software that hosts Wikipedia. Wiki Journal Club (WJC) was born.
Dave and I were later joined by Manny Lam, Dave’s residency classmate. We started to review and criticize the “big trials” in medical literature in a method somewhere between ACP Journal Club, Cliff’s Notes, and Wikipedia. We encouraged others to join us. Edits required user registration, but that was free. The content was unrestricted and accessible, designed to engage learners around the globe in the same way that we were engaged at UVM. Dave, Manny, and I would serve as editors in this experiment.
The content of the website started small. At first there was a handful pages. Then a couple dozen. There was persistent growth in content, and three years later there are more than 200 pages dedicated to landmark and otherwise interesting trials in medical literature. Most of the content has been authored by us editors but we have had increasing involvement by independent contributors across the globe.
As the content expanded, Google began to list us highly for search results of popular trial names. You can’t spend more than a day or two rotating through an ICU without hearing about the “Rivers Trial.” Google ranks the WJC page reviewing and criticizing this trial at the top of the search results. (This is true for many others including ACCORD, AFFIRM, COMET, and A-HeFT.) Search traffic followed. If growth continues, we’ll have over a half of a million page views in the next year from users in the U.S. and abroad.
A successful website inspired by UVM’s collaborative educational environment! End of story, right?
Among his many hats, Dave is also a programmer and decided to write an app for iPhone and iPad called Journal Club. My very talented brother-in-law, Chris Coderre, made us an Android version shortly thereafter. The apps neatly format the content of the website for small screens and allow for downloading of the content for offline use.
The apps have been downloaded by thousands of users around the world. Without any formal advertising program, the apps consistently rank in the top 10 to 30 most popular medical apps for sale on the Apple and Google Play app stores. Proceeds from sales fund the ever-growing server fees for the website along with development expenses.
The UVM College of Medicine’s collaborative philosophy fosters more than a great education — it can inspire innovative projects like ours that can help learners around the globe. We have had success with WJC and the Journal Club apps, but I think this is just the beginning of a new movement from UVM.
Tim Plante, UVM ‘06, M.D. ‘11, is a general internal medicine fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Dave Iberri, M.D. ‘10, is a hematology/oncology fellow at Stanford Hospitals & Clinics. They run Wiki Journal Club and the Journal Club apps for iOS and Android.