Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Pre-Meds Gone Wiki!

I spent part of this winter vacation satisfying an itch to learn about Wiki websites (Wiki means "fast" in Hawaiian). Basically, these are websites whose content can be edited by anyone. While this may seem like a dangerous proposal, it has been immensely successful with the generation of Wikipedia (encyclopedia) and Wiktionary (dictionary). The contributors to these sites are usually anonymous and often deliver better information (and more current) than an actual book. It should be noted that oversight is maintained by readers/contributors, so the fact checking is not always 100%, but I still think its pretty good. Whenever I have a question about some entity, I google the term, and usually the Wikipedia entry is one to the top results.
To me, I find this medium of information exchange a revolution for the internet. As Time magazine recognizes in its Person of the Year (a mirror is on the cover), YOU are now in charge of your experiences. Gone are the days when you are forced to sit on the sidelines and let other people make decisions about the information your are fed. If you see something wrong or something you would like to change on a Wiki website, all you have to do is click Edit, make a few keystrokes, and you're done!

Now, what does this have to do with science and medicine? Well, I was thinking to myself a few months ago about the medical school admissions process and how it might be improved. For starters, it would be great if we could channel the collective efforts of the hundreds, if not thousands of anxious pre-meds that scour the internet every year for every bit of information the can about medical schools.

For those who don't know, medical schools are very different from undergraduate colleges, in that experience in med school can be starkly different between schools, whereas in undergrad (with some exceptions) is pretty much the same wherever you go. Each medical school has its own personality and like to do things differently from the others. The nuances of each school make it hard to generalize about medical schools. This means that every year, thousands of would-be pre-meds must search high and low for tid-bits of information wherever they can - internet, word of mouth, books, etc. This is also means that EVERY year, the SAME questions get asked on the Student Doctor Network Pre-Medical Forums. You get alot of: "Does School X have rolling admissions?", "When does School Y have interviews?", "How many people does School Z accept?", etc. etc.

So, I thought, there has to be a better way of doing this. Why not take advantage of the advent of Wiki websites to have a place were folks can deposit the information they find so that life is easier for everyone? After learning the basics of the Wiki WYSIWYG language (I have some experience in Web design and programming, but it was easy to pick-up regardless), I set about thinking of every single bit of information that might be necessary in the admissions process of a particular school. Starting with general info, like the name, where its located, places nearby, etc. I then broke down the pre-interview, interview, and acceptance stages into seperate categories.

As you can see in the Blank Template on SDN, the list of attributes grew to be quite extensive. For good measure, I even added Google Maps functionality for convenience. Its then I realized just how much information about a school actually exists - and its different for EACH school. I'll leave it up to others to go in and fill out the information from the backbone template.

Its an unusual way to make a website, especially since there is essentially no content in the beginning - it will take some time for people to make enough significant contributions. But once its there, the information can be used for some time and updated as necessary. I'm excited to see how it all plays out. I'm also working on re-working the rest of the Pre-Med Wiki, so that it is a little more comprehensive and conducive for a Wiki website (it is currently based on a mini-book, written two years ago).


NCurse said...

I liked this article. And yes, we have the same interests. :) Do you plan to write about other wiki-related articles?

SouthPaw said...

Yup, I'm working on redo-ing the current Pre-Medical Wiki and I'm also working on a Wiki for my medical school. Hopefully, in the long run, I can start contributing to some more established Wiki sites.