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Another downside of our tech submerged society

U.K. surgeon gives thumbs down to medical students' lack of dexterity

A prominent British surgeon says he's concerned that medical students don't have the same manual dexterity as their predecessors. Have we turned our backs on our hands?

Basic skills often learned in early childhood are getting lost, says Dr. Roger Kneebone

CBC Radio · November 9
Have we turned our backs on our hands? U.K. surgeon Roger Kneebone says the students he teaches each year don't have the same dexterity as their predecessors. (Chanawit/Shutterstock)


A U.K. doctor who trains surgeons is voicing concern over the lack of manual dexterity among medical students these days.

"It seems we can no longer rely on people having developed these ways of using their hands from early childhood, at home and at school," Dr. Roger Kneebone told The Current's guest host, Piya Chattopadhay.

The professor of surgical education at London's Imperial College said colleagues in various branches of medicine have made the same observation.

"We're seeing increasing numbers of people who no longer have that sort of basic language using their hands, in the way that — only five or ten years ago — people used to," he said.

In secondary schools in the U.K., many of the activities that taught people how to be skilled with their hands — woodwork, cooking, painting, performance art — are now optional in the central curriculum, Kneebone explained.

Dr. Kneebone says his medical students are not comfortable cutting or tying string because they don't have the practical experience using these skills. (Shutterstock / Thanakrit Sathavo)

The result is that basic skills like cutting and tying knots are not intuitive for most of Kneebone's medical students — yet it's an integral part of performing surgery.

It's not just dexterity, these skills inform an understanding of the world around us through the sense of touch, Kneebone told Chattopadhyay.

In surgery for instance, he explained surgeons always have to make judgments on the state of an organ or tissue, including whether they can be joined together or cut apart.

"It's not something that you learn once and apply it in the same way ever after —  you're constantly having to make these judgments in the moment."

To explore the way we use our hands and why dexterity is so hard to replicate, Chattopadhyay spoke to:

  • Vincent Duchaine, co-founder of Robotiq, a Canadian firm developing robotic grippers that mimic some hand functions. He's also an engineering professor at École de technologie supérieure in Montreal. 
  • Göran Lundborg, retired hand surgeon and professor emeritus of hand surgery at Lunde University in Sweden. He's also the author of The Hand and the Brain: From Lucy's Thumb to the Thought-controlled Robotic Hand. 
  • Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London.
  • Roger Lister Kneebone (born February 1954) is British professor of surgical education at Imperial College London.

    A graduate of at St Andrews and Manchester universities, he performed trauma procedures in the war zones of Southern Africa before working as a general practitioner in Wiltshire and after completing a PhD. Upon return, he became involved in medical education based around simulation and computer-based learning, challenging the "documentary framework". He co-founded the United Kingdom's only Masters in Education in Surgical Education.

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1 hour ago, st27 said:

You’re kidding right?????

I thought so too so I looked him up.


Professor RogerKneebone

Faculty of MedicineDepartment of Surgery & Cancer

Professor of Surgical Education and Engagement ScienceLocation


ICCESS, Academic SurgeryChelsea and Westminster HospitalChelsea and Westminster Campus


Roger Kneebone directs the Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science (ICCESS), based within the Division Surgery on the Chelsea & Westminster campus. The Centre's aim is to advance human health through simulation, collaborating closely with clinicans, scientsts, patients, publics and experts outside medicine. Roger and his co-director Dr Fernando Bello lead a vibrant multidisciplinary research team.

Roger also directs the Royal College of Music (RCM) - Imperial College Centre for Performance Science ( This ambitious collaboration, launched in 2016, is aimed at tackling major challenges of performance across a wide array of domains from the arts, education and business to medicine, science and sport. Led jointly by Roger and Professor Aaron Williamon (RCM), the Centre draws on dynamic collaborations already in place across the two institutions, spanning the arts, medicine, engineering, natural sciences, and business. 

Roger trained first as a general and trauma surgeon, working both in the UK and in Southern Africa. After finishing his specialist training, he decided to become a general practitioner and joined a large group practice in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. In the 1990s he pioneered an innovative national training programme for minor surgery within primary care, based around intensive workshops using simulated tissue models and a computer-based learning program.

Roger established and (with Dr Kirsten Dalrymple) leads the UK’s only Masters in Education (MEd) in Surgical Education, which started in October 2005. This challenging programme builds on educational theory and practice to explore relationships between the biomedical sciences, the craft of surgery and the humanities and social sciences. Recently reframed to reflect innovations in educational thinking, the M Ed has a modular structure which takes advantage of new developments in surgery, education and interdisciplinary research.


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I suppose young Roger had little choice as to his future profession. 

This dexterity issue is also showing up in our Canadian schools. Kindergarten kids are excellent with an iPad but totally void of any creativity and reasoning. My better half said to me it’s amazing the changes she has seen in the last 10 years alone. 

Edited by blues deville

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