iPad Use in Medical School: Should You Get an iPad Pocket for Your White Coat?

By Walter Wiggins

A few months back, Vamsi and Jaysson posted a great article on iPad use in the hospital. However, their focus was on the use of iPads during residency. While they hit on some great points about order entry and care coordination, we’ll go over concerns specific to med students in this post.

At this point in time, only a few schools are taking major steps to integrate iPad use into their curricula. However, with the rising prevalence of e-textbooks and iPad-friendly electronic medical records (EMR) systems, students at many schools may benefit from using an iPad as an educational supplement in the classroom and on the wards.

For preclinical students (1st and 2nd year med students, at most schools), the best use will be to supplement your classroom education with note-taking apps such as Notability (used to mark-up PowerPoint presentations or take lecture notes), organizational apps like Evernote (for keeping track of tasks and articles), and e-textbooks. Some e-books are available through iBooks, while others exist in app format – available through the App Store. As you get closer to Step 1, you might find that question bank apps allow you to fit in a few more practice questions in those moments of downtime scattered throughout the day.

Finally, all of the items mentioned above apply to 3rd and 4th years. It’s particularly useful to have an iPad on the wards when you’re the low man or woman on the totem pole and there’s a paucity of computers. I use mine to check up on my patients’ results and orders, as well as to write H&Ps and progress notes. My iPad has supplanted the need for a backpack (most of the time) as I no longer have to carry a laptop and several review books with me. I’ve got review books, practice questions, and medical reference apps all at the tap of a finger.

So, if you’re going to use an iPad on the wards, should you get an iPad pocket sewn into your white coat? Fortunately, my white coat has pockets on the outside that are big enough to hold an iPad. That said, if I didn’t have a pocket available to me already, I would definitely take my coat to the tailor and get one sewn in on the inside. It’s a lot easier than having to keep up with a bag during the day and fumbling through it every time you want to pull your iPad out. However, if you plan to use a Bluetooth keyboard or some other attachment with your iPad, you may want to consider simply going with a bag.

Bottom line, I whole-heartedly recommend iPad use in the classroom and on the wards and, furthermore, I recommend getting a iPad-friendly pocket for your white coat.

Let us know how you use an iPad in the comments below. If you have any tips or apps you can’t live without, share them.

Categories: Miscellaneous

7 replies »

  1. Good piece, but remember that there are a lot of android tablets out there. Consider using more universal terms to address more people.


  2. Thanks for the feedback. Our intention with this post and the previous post was to address iPad use, specifically. There is a wealth of data out there to support iPad use in the hospital setting and most institutions that support tablet use are primarily supporting the iPad, at this point in time.

    Android tablet use is a more complicated issue that merits its own discussion in a separate post. I won’t get into all of it here, but the primary issues are security (in the short-term) and standardization (in the long-term). We’ll post a synopsis of the Android vs. iOS debate in the near future. I hope you’ll join the conversation then, as well.


  3. I am a third year medical student at one of the few schools that gave iPads to their students. While it cuts down on paper during the pre-clinical years it is not easy to take as great of notes as it is using paper and pen. Professors often have incomplete slides or no notes in the notes section. When rapidly flipping through slides it makes it that much more difficult to write down what they said…. and this is the experience of many students in my class.

    Furthermore, having an ipad open while you are on the clinic floors is a bad idea. Attendings assume you are playing Angry Birds just as they assume you are texting if you have your iphone and using an app. I personally know of students who have had negative evaluations for using these devices on the floor. Then again, maybe it is just old timers and old-school east coast style. iPad user be warned— it is a risk you take trying to change the culture of medicine as a medical student.


  4. Anas Alrefaee:

    Do you think that iPhone is a reasonable alternative?

    I think the iPhone is a reasonable alternative for quick access to resources like Epocrates and Medscape. However, it is likely more limited with respect to EMR and imaging access/capabilities.

    Regarding the usage issues John mentioned above, I think you have to be socially and situationally judicious about your use of any type of technology on rounds. You should know your patients’ well enough not to need access to a tablet or smartphone when presenting their case and responding to questions about it. Furthermore, the purpose of asking so-called “pimp” questions on rounds is not to see who can look up the answer on their smartphone the fastest…but rather to see what you actually know. However, when an attending says, “Let’s pull up Ms. Jones’ imaging,” and you can quickly access the appropriate study on a handheld device (since the interns/residents usually get the computers-on-wheels) and make an attempt to walk your team through it, that can make you look really good.

    When you’re not on rounds or in a room seeing a patient, however, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to use a smartphone or a tablet on the floor. There are many times when your superiors are using all of the available computers and you need to remain close by as you get your work done or read up on your patients.


  5. I am thinking of getting a white coat with a pocket big enough for my tablet (experia Z) and I have been trying to find an advice on weather to get the one with pocket on the outside or the inside. I saw that you recommend getting one with a pocket on the outside, but then you mention how you would take it to the seamstress and get one sewn inside, does this mean you feel it is better to get one with a pocket on the inside? I always have my lab coat buttoned down when I am wearing one, so Im not sure if the inside one would do me any good.. Anyone using either?


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