Rochester Medicine

The App Man

Mar. 27, 2015

Spencer Craven (MD ‘16) is part of the first SMD class to receive iPads at orientation. Three years later, he has built a reputation for putting his skills to good use.

CravenIt weighs less than one pound, but Spencer Craven’s iPad helps him do, well, just about everything. He uses it to keep his schedule, carry books, take notes, project images on the wall, and study for exams. He pulls it out to create birthday cards for relatives, or listen to his wife sing a silly tune. And that’s just for starters.

“I play a lot of music,” says the 27-year-old Utahan, who can occasionally be heard strumming a guitar in the SMD student lounge. Right now, he’s trying to master a Coldplay song. “I have my guitar playing app to learn the chords,” he says.

Mobile apps, those software pro­grams that run on smartphones and tablets, are rapidly becoming a requisite piece of modern life. Since beginning to incorporate iPads into the curriculum in 2012, the SMD has supported an app that lets students add their own notes to the electronic syllabi, highlight sections of the material, and draw things like circles and arrows. This app is free, but students are given an allowance that can be used to download other apps of their choosing.

 “I spent all of it on the Netter’s Anatomy app,” Craven says, admitting it was a bit impulsive. But it paid off. “I find Netter’s to be so beautiful that I enjoy studying anatomy more.”

Craven didn’t stop there. He relies on about a dozen apps to help with his coursework, test prep and clinical rounds, and he is always testing out new finds. He’s contacted the developers of favored apps, asking for a group discount so his classmates will be more inclined to try them, and he’s the first to know when a developer improves an app. In short, he is the “App Man,” a title bestowed by Senior Associate Dean David R. Lambert, MD.

Craven’s interest in apps originated before he came to medical school, when he was working as a tutor for the MCAT.

“I was always trying to find ways for students to increase their efficiency.”

 He found a number of good study apps, which he adopted for himself when the SMD handed him his first iPad. For the first two years of medical school, his workhorse was one called iAnnotate. To demonstrate how it works, he pulls up an uploaded version of his Step 1 study guide. (For non-docs, that’s the test medical students take at the end of their second year. It’s part of the process of obtaining a medical license.) The guide is marked up with colors. The orange notes relate to neuroanatomy, so he could sort the pages and focus on that area when desired. Notes in red meant he really needed to work hard to master those topics; green meant he had them down pat.

Another of Craven’s favorite apps is called Anki, which he used to create digital flashcards. He scheduled how often each card appeared. Some cards would show up every few days; others would resurface in sixty seconds. He had the app synced with his iPhone.

“So when I was standing in line at Subway, stressing out because I wasn’t studying, I could just pull out my phone and flip through the flashcards,” he recalls.

 When he reached his third year, Craven sold his iPad because it wouldn’t fit in his pocket for rotations. Now he owns an iPad mini, which does. Feeling overwhelmed, he started tracking medication changes on the device. Soon, a couple of residents picked up on it and he showed them how to do it as well.

Craven also uses apps to help patients understand their medical conditions.

 “There are a slew of apps by drawMD that help you show patients what is happening in their bodies, and what we’re doing to help them,” he says. “Patients love it. They might have an idea where the gallbladder is, but they can’t picture it or understand why a gall stone affects the pancreas.”

He predicts it will take a few more years before apps are fully integrated into the learning of medicine, since some students still carry heavy baskets full of flashcards, paper notepads, and pencils. And, he adds, it will be even longer before apps permeate the practice of medicine.

“But the fact that we are sitting here talking about it shows that it is happening.”