Vol. 4, Issue 2

Undergraduate medical students as Wikipedians

Ajay George

Professor, Department of ENT, SBKS MI & RC, Sumandeep Vidyapeeth, Piparia, Waghodia, Vadodara, Gujarat, India


Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia absolutely freely accessible to all. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is openly editable i.e. anyone with access to the internet can add, delete or modify content on Wikipedia. Since its creation in 2001 (January 15th is widely accepted as its birthday) the encyclopedia has enlarged to contain over 38 million articles in 290 languages – a collection which would need 15000 print volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia has over 1,55,000 health articles which are accessed by laypersons and health professionals alike. One study showed that 22% of all healthcare searches online directed to Wikipedia. Eventhough majority of the healthcare related topics on Wikipedia are written by professionals or medical students, there is still scope for improvements as in one study it turned up that 85.7% of these articles had good level of validity and only 62.9% of the topics were free of ‘critical omissions’. The omnipresence of Wikipedia is now an accepted fact and there is a movement from institutes like National Institute of Health, UCSF etc. to write on Wikipedia.

The need for quality medical articles written by contributors with basic knowledge of medicine is a felt need for Wikipedia. At the same time it is important to expose the undergraduate medical student not only to the process of acquiring knowledge from different sources but also to be able to synthesize it and present it in his or her own words with the ability to cite it satisfactorily. Though the process of reviewing on Wikipedia by others is not as robust as in peer reviewed journals, there are sufficient parallels to gain a learning experience. This was the genesis of the Wikipedia project wherein my under graduate students collaborated to write on medical topics, mainly related to ENT over a period of 8 months, during the first phase of third MBBS. In the first year, 2015-16, 16 topics were worked upon, while in this academic year we are in the process of giving finishing touches to 21 topics.

The students have risen admirably to the challenge, albeit with a little bit of coaxing and cajoling. They have performed with great initiative and industriousness much beyond their usual range. Once they got going, they relished the task with a gusto which only youngsters can manage. Some of them have been converted to dedicated Wikipedians. The work was also been acknowledged in the Wikiconference India, 2016.

However it has not been all rosy. There have been many issues like picking up wikilanguage, understanding the differences between citing and plagiarism, picky editors, maintaining the balance with routine academics – just to name a few. But addressing and managing these challenges is part of the learning process. The journey is a goal in itself.