Medical Training, on Your Phone: Interview with Ariella Salimpour, CEO of Thumbroll


Effective training is crucial for medical students if they are to become competent and successful clinicians. Much of this training is performed in person, where medical students will first observe medical procedures and then perform them under supervision.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted this training architecture, making it more difficult for students to access on-site training at medical facilities. However, having enough fully trained clinicians to respond to the pandemic is crucially important, so this disruption is highly unwelcome.   

Remote learning offers another source of training, and is particularly useful during the pandemic. While not intended to replace in-person training, remote learning solutions, such as the Thumbroll app, can provide a supplementary source of medical training.

The app contains over 300 learning modules that cover common skills, from tying sutures to anatomical dissections and physical examinations. In response to the pandemic, Thumbroll now even has a new COVID-19 section with useful skills, such as correct handwashing procedures and DIY mask making.    

See a video about the app below:

Medgadget had the opportunity to talk to Ariella Salimpour, Thumbroll Founder and CEO, about the technology.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of Thumbroll and its uses.

Ariella Salimpour, Thumbroll: I have found that we never seem to have enough time. This is especially the case for young medical students and doctors in training. Thumbroll was born out of a desire to help medical students, doctors in training, and medical professionals save time by giving them tools to enhance their training process.

Thumbroll is customized to the need of the individual. Because you’re not constrained to the length of a 10, 20, or 30 minute video, you can view content in seconds or in minutes as you sit down and take time to analyze each and every step of a medical procedure. Thumbroll is like a visual checklist. Content is broken down to steps, allowing you to just see only what is necessary to learn the material.

In the early days of Thumbroll, a medical resident told us that “the first time I used Thumbroll was when I had been called to a patient’s room to put in a central line. I remember being in the elevator. I quickly pulled up Thumbroll, flipped through, and thought ‘gosh, I feel so much better now having just looked at it.’”

Ever since the beginning, medical trainees have been discovering Thumbroll and sharing it with their peers and friends at other schools.

Medgadget: What areas does the app cover?

Ariella Salimpour: Our Thumbroll team continues to partner with medical schools and medical residency programs across the U.S. to launch user-requested content. Thumbroll’s mission has always been to aggregate information from top medical institutions and provide it to trainees around the world. Our team creates content in partnership with several healthcare industry leaders, including Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Keck School of Medicine of USC, UCLA Health, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Stanford Medicine, and University of Texas Medical Branch Health.

Thumbroll houses a library of more than 300 modules showing and explaining skills and procedures that range from Suture knot-tying and how to perform physical exams, anatomy dissections and complicated surgical techniques. We recently launched a section on everyday emergencies, providing information on heart attacks, strokes, seizures, bleeding and allergic reactions.

Medgadget: What are the benefits of distance learning applications compared with a traditional setting?

Ariella Salimpour: Different forms of learning provide different values. Being in-person is critical. Trainees need hands-on experience in a skills lab, in the hospital, and with patients to get to the level of mastery we expect from our clinicians.

One of the unique benefits of Thumbroll is that it’s always with you. We always have our phones with us (and therefore Thumbroll). It’s quick, simple, and efficient. You can view content in seconds and refresh your memory immediately.

Some of our trainees use Thumbroll before anatomy class or during anatomy lab to make sure they’re on track with their dissections, and after class to review before exams. Others use Thumbroll as a just-in-time platform during rotations or before walking into patient rooms. But, in every scenario, it’s used as a tool to help enhance the current method.

Medgadget: How does Thumbroll help to enhance learning for its users by actively engaging them and maintaining their attention.

Ariella Salimpour: Our methodology is simple. It involves three main components:

  1. Visual Content
  2. Active Engagement
  3. Critical Information

The idea of visual content revolves around the premise that the human brain processes visual imagery faster and more efficiently than text. Most of us have heard the saying: A photograph is worth a thousand words. Images are the simplest way to help us understand information that would otherwise be more difficult to understand or internalize via the written word.

The second revolves around being actively engaged during the learning process. We now know that the human brain is most receptive to learning when it is actively engaged in material. Thumbroll’s patent-protected roller allows learners to actively engage in and roll through content at their own pace, see each step of the process, and more effectively recall material.

And finally, the idea that you don’t typically “need” all the information being presented to you—you just need the critical pieces to extract the same information. Thumbroll takes advantage of a trick our minds play on us. If presented properly, we can see pieces of information and our brain will “connect the dots.” The beauty of this is that it allows us to process information in a fraction of the time than for example a video with the same information.

Medgadget: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected medical students who frequently learn practical procedures from their peers in person?

Ariella Salimpour: Unlike other schooling, the majority would argue that medical education isn’t one that can thrive remotely and/or online. And I agree. Trainees need to get their hands dirty and physically practice clinical skills.

Before COVID-19, medical curricula didn’t have to account for students having little to no hospital access for a prolonged period of time. Students attended skill labs, rounded in hospitals, and learned by watching colleagues. These modes of learning are for now quite limited due to the pandemic. Today, educators and administrators are seeking out alternative remote and online experiences. And that’s where Thumbroll comes in. Thumbroll is one of few ways for trainees to dive into clinical training during this time where in-person clinical experience is limited. Thumbroll is becoming more critical every day as clinical exposure is reduced but learning must still go on.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the new COVID-19 section on the app.

Ariella Salimpour: When COVID-19 hit, we decided that it was our responsibility to be a part of the solution and continue to offer Thumbroll as a free resource for everyone who needs it. Along with our content partners and the latest CDC recommendations, we quickly launched a new COVID-19 section within Thumbroll. Our content ranges from proper hand-washing technique to DIY mask-making. Our goal is to provide healthcare professionals with a tool to share with their colleagues and patients alike on how to address some of the safety needs during the pandemic.

Link: Thumbroll app…

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