Sean Lim is a third-year medical student at Touro University California, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, California. Like so many of his peers, Sean had trouble processing the vast amounts of information piled on him in lectures and by the intensive medical school curriculum.
“Medicine is classically taught via lectures and PowerPoint presentations,” Sean explains. “But that's simply too much information for the human brain to process. Our brains are not built to soak in four hours of all this stuff that's being thrown at us. And the information that will be taught to med students will continue to increase, and there's no control to [that] information.”
Ask anyone who’s attended med school, and they’ll likely tell you: It is a grind — both in classrooms and clinical studies. Sean believes students can empower themselves to more actively shape how they learn the volumes of information required to graduate medical school. He’s also an advocate for achieving a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Sean wondered: Could technology provide a solution to make medical school studies more manageable?
Sean had been using digital flashcards as a study tool — the electronic version of an old-school method to help students memorize bite-sized pieces of information and quiz themselves, via two-sided cards. But off-the-shelf apps didn’t give Sean the control he wanted to organize related pieces of information among flashcards. And sharing flashcards with his fellow med students didn’t get Sean any closer to a solution.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the flashcards that exist out there are kind of random,” Sean asserts. “Sometimes one person has a deck for a certain class, and then another person has another deck for the same class. But the two decks aren't really similar, and you don’t really know if another student’s deck has the information you need until you go through the whole deck.”
Sean was up for the challenge of diagnosing and treating the problem himself.
He was exposed to computer science and datasets as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, where he majored in biophysics and minored in cinematic arts. “I was bouncing between both arts and sciences,” Sean recalls. “I actually took classes in video game design.” He worked with microbial bioinformatics as part of his post-college research work — which combines biology and computer science for the acquisition, storage, analysis, and dissemination of biological data. So he was comfortable working with databases and large datasets. He also developed coding skills through MathWorks’ MATLAB platform.
Sean began searching for a way to develop an app himself that would organize interrelational information into flashcards — giving students faster access to exactly what they need to learn for their courses and maximize precious study time.
Sean had tried other flashcard storage and organization apps on the market. But they didn’t offer the relational tables featured in Google Cloud’s AppSheet — essential for Sean to build the med school flashcard study app he envisioned.
“Only through AppSheet can you really connect flashcards that are similar,” he says. Sean liked that no-code development with AppSheet felt like a familiar environment. “You can just use its existing framework to create and customize your interface without having to put in a line of code,” he offers.
Sean built his flashcards with key information from lectures and medical textbooks. He used Google Apps Script to batch the flashcards and automatically enter their information into AppSheet’s tables. He then used AppSheet to create parent and child tables in order to organize relational databases of flashcard information.
“So if you're learning about diabetes, you want to learn all about diabetes before you move on to heart conditions,” he says. “AppSheet let me organize my flashcards and string them together in a way that told a story. It wasn't just isolated flashcards that were just all over the place. One flashcard could be related to another cluster of flashcards. None of the other apps can do that.”
Sean set up relational databases across several categories in his AppSheet-powered app. “Many diseases have the same symptoms,” he offers, as an example. “So I can look at all the diseases that have this symptom all at once, and then develop those kinds of mental frameworks. My app has around thirty of those kinds of relationships. And because of that, I'm able to parse my data very quickly, instead of looking it up without knowing where I'm going.”
Sean is a true citizen developer. His goal? “Empower students to reach medical knowledge goals with data and technology.” By developing his AppSheet-powered app, his medical flashcards can now be used over and over again, rather than being “siloed for a single exam.”
Sean envisions integrating the med school’s entire curriculum into his relational flashcard app — helping his fellow med students maximize their study time and achieve more balance between work and life.
“[An app] like this would be a great gift,” to other students, Sean said in a Touro Triumphs article. Sean presented his learning app to Touro University California faculty and then rolled it out at the Innovations in Medical Education Conference at the Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles in February 2020.
On his website website, Sean writes: “My app employs learning theory such as spaced repetition and schematic thinking where every flashcard is placed in a knowledge network, allowing students to see how medical facts are interrelated and keep track of their day-to-day progress on the competencies they need to be successful in the clinic.”
It all fits with Sean’s goal to make med school studies more manageable and to help future doctors take a more holistic approach to school, medicine, and a balanced lifestyle.
An advocate for “democratizing urban farming,” Sean has also developed a nonprofit management app for a community garden outreach team.
“My goal as a student is to have a nice kind of lifestyle, not just studying all the time,” Sean muses. He likes that his AppSheet-powered app can run offline, so he can study wherever he wants. “That has allowed me to exercise every day,” he says. “Because the app can run offline, I can go outside of the grid and then still use the app to review stuff. So I don't have to be sitting in front of the computer to study. I could just be walking outside having a good time.”
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