Friday, November 30, 2012


I have terrible visuospatial skills. It's why I could never be a general surgeon or a gastroenterologist, or any field where you need to work a camera in more than two dimensions.

Believe it or not, good visuospatial skills are required for interventional pain medicine. I did a rotation in Pain Medicine as a resident where I spent a lot of time in the fluoroscopy suite doing injections. And I was terrible at it.

One day when I was working with an attending named Dr. Contrast, I spent practically the whole day in the OR and the whole time was extremely frustrated that I never knew which way to move the needle. We were using fluoroscopy to look at the course of the needle into the spine and based on what we saw, used tricks to redirect it. But I just. Didn't. Get it.

Finally, I 'fessed up to Dr. Contrast:

Me: "I don't get it."

Dr. Contrast: "Yeah, I can see that."

Me: "How do you decide what direction to move the needle in?"

Dr. Contrast, bless his heart, launched into a big explanation of how to move the needle, equipped with drawings. I understood about 50% of what he was saying. I was just having trouble visualizing it.

Me: "Man, I wish I had played more video games as a kid. I'm good at math, but my visuospatial skills suck."

Dr. Contrast: "I know. I thanked my parents for letting me play video games as a kid."

It's true: when I attempt to play 3D games, I'm so bad at them, it's actually hilarious to the people watching. When I held the camera during surgery, the surgeon kept telling me they were going vomit (but maybe they say that to all the med students). And my husband won't play 3D Wii games with me, because he says I'm giving him a headache.

So kids, that's what you need to tell your parents when they tell you to stop playing those video games. Don't they want you to be a doctor someday??


  1. You are so right. Many specialites involve far more than being able to study, retain and apply medical science. I would more likely to be like you with those special skills, I knew to avoid procedural specialties. But play video games? That could be a topic of its own. With my kids I saw nothing good coming out of video games. So in my family we banned them and regained peace, graceful kind kids and more time to read. I know you were just joking though. I am sure there will be people testifying on video games merits.

  2. I played a ton of video games growing up. My family was one of the first to have one of those 8 bit Nintendos. The only problem is that the 3D video games didn't come out until I was in hs, and I didn't play as much of them. I'm still decent, but not nearly as good as I am at the 8 bit games. A lot of it (with video games AND procedures) is just about being able to relax, focus, and get into the groove. It's a nice feeling when that happens, but hard to do when you have a resident staring at what you're doing and yelling at you constantly.

    Hm. Perhaps I should do a procedural specialty after all?

  3. I walk off cliffs in the newer video games...habitually.

    On second though, I walk off of and into things habitually anyway...Off cliffs, into walls, the cabinets in the ambulance, the stretcher...

    Maybe I should have played more video games.

  4. I'm lucky I was a child (and an active participant) of the video game generation. Still play them.

  5. What makes you feel so lucky? Do video games make one happy? if so what kind of fullfillemt, emotions and satisfaction do they provide? I consider myself lucky to not be of the video game generation. As a child enjoyed outdoors, good books, good friends, music, arts, theater and great movies in the cinema. I rode a bike, cultivated a garden, took care of my disabled greatgrandparent, rowed a boat, fished, danced, ran, observed breathtaking sunsets and sunrises from my balcony while playing music instrument with gentle spring air blowing my music around large neighbourhood. I took care of pets, volunteered for my school, gave music performances in remote villages and to factory workers. I saw workers faces light up from my music. If one can get same happiness from a video game, sign me up.

    1. Things aren't one thing or another. You can play video games and still do all those things you listed. Pets can be well cared for whether you are fishing on a lake or on a Wii. This article suggests that there are certain advantages to playing 3D games. Everything in moderation.

    2. Obviously, by my statement, the only fulfillment I recieve in life is from video games. /eyeroll

      It's actually how I spent a lot of quality time with my dad. We would play Mario, Duckhunt, and later on we would play Zork on the computer. I do believe it improved my ability to work with computers and improved my dexterity somewhat. The video games I currently play actually help me keep in touch with friends across the country. We game together, talk about life and catch up.

      As another poster said, things aren't totally one thing or another. When I was younger, I didn't play video games all day. I played with friends, did figure skating, horseback riding, tennis, art (even got a $24,000 scholarship to college because of my artistic abilities) and now I am pursuing a career in medicine. Just because someone played video games when they were younger doesn't mean that that's all they do forever. Holy cow.

    3. What an odd comment. This is why I complain that people comment on my posts without actually reading them. The whole point I *thought* I was making was that playing video games as a kid can help your visuospatial skills develop and help you in certain careers. Was that somehow unclear?

    4. My comment was not directly about your article. It was a question to above poster who went as far as saying video games make for a lucky life. Not surprising at all. Just saying I feel lucky about the opposite, lack of computer games freed up my time to do all the great things I did as a child. The poster actually answered my question pretty well and I respect what he/she enjoyed about the video games. My comment may have answered the last question in your post:do you recommend it to kids for whatever merit? BTW Anon at 11:48 replied to my comment in a very balanced way without calling someone odd.

    5. I didn't call you odd, only the comment.

      I think good visuospatial can be useful in a lot of fields, including the ones I mentioned. Unlike you, I feel UNlucky that I never got that training, and it's probably too late for me now because it's hard to develop after a certain age.

    6. There is a book I read on what makes geniouses in various fields (?co-author Stanle Greenspan?). It said - best visuo-spatial skills in the world maybe possessed by 1)eskimo people who use only tiny hardly visible clues in snow-white tundra for hunting and finding home after all day hunting and 2) by polenisian island people who are most precise sailors and rely only starry skies/sun and no compas to navigate. Both groups have shown these qualities before computer game age. Your post is great and fun twist to computer game application. It is fun to read. I respect you wish you had the training.

  6. Interesting. I wonder if we'll see an improvement in visualspatial comprehension in the coming years, now that the kids who grew up with such video games are starting to come of age?

  7. Supposedly people who played lots of videogames growing up are better at robot-assisted surgery (or whatever they call it these days). It really is a thing! I'm terrible at videogames, but my visuospatial skills are ok, so hopefully that won't keep me out of gastroenterology D:

  8. Interesting! I remember having the first Nintendo on our block when I was growing up (think very early 80's). Our neighbor was a surgeon and he asked to borrow it. Apparently he was at a seminar learning new techniques and he was told to play video games.