Technology is an integral and rapidly advancing part of the Vanderbilt Medical School experience. A majority of Vanderbilt medical students consider themselves at least somewhat computer savvy (68%). You may be wondering about what computer to have, whether to have a tablet, attend lectures live or watch them online, how you will access medical school resources. Below are some of these important questions answered.

Should I have a laptop or desktop? Both? Neither?

Both desktop computers and laptop computers have strengths and weaknesses.

Desktop computers are less expensive and more powerful than laptop computers. Additionally, depending on how tech savvy you are, a desktop computer is easy to build. The weakness of desktop computers is that they are not portable. It is infeasible to bring them to school with you, so most of your computer work must be done at home. There are desktops available for use by medical students in Light Hall, available 24/7, to do work at school.

Laptops are smaller, lighter, and can be carried to class. If you bring your laptop to class you can use it to take notes, browse the web (for further information, of course…), and do assignments at school. The disadvantages of laptops include their high price and low power.

You can have any setup you want for medical school. Most people have laptops. Some use desktops and a tablet. Some have desktops, laptops, and tablets. The best computer combination depends on your style of learning. If you prefer hand-written notes and doing work at home, a desktop may be all you need. If you like typing notes during lecture, a laptop would likely be best. If you like typing notes with hand-written augmentations, a tablet may be best (with a desktop or laptop). But most medical students own only a laptop.

What operating system and computer make should I get?

The majority of VMS class of 2016 have Macs (67%). Of those who have Windows machines, 29% have Dells, 29% have HPs, 17% have Lenovos, and 25% have laptops made by manufacturers (Toshiba, Sony, etc.).

Along with this is the choice of operating system. The majority of medical students choose to use OSX over Windows. This is a personal decision. Both operating systems are compatible with Vanderbilt’s technological systems.

Mac OSX is lauded for ease of use and simple design built on top of a powerful UNIX base. Most major applications, like Microsoft Office, exist on OSX. Rarely, however, you may need to use an application only available for Windows. In this case, many people virtualize Windows using programs like Parallels, VirtualBox, or VMWare. Instructions to set up a virtual machine can be provided to you.

Windows is the major OS used corporately and at Vanderbilt. Most of Vanderbilt’s systems run on Windows, and Windows is compatible with everything. It has an enormous application base due to its prevalence.

Other options include one of the many Linux distributions. You are welcome to use these operating systems, though support from Vanderbilt will likely be minimal.

Overall, operating system is your choice. Most people prefer purchasing a Macbook Pro or Macbook Air. Beyond that, students choose a wide array of manufacturers for their laptop purchase. The recommended brand is Lenovo due to consistent high quality construction and warranty.

So what about tablets?

Tablet computers are making a huge rise in medical education. Many leading universities force students to buy iPads for resource distribution. Vanderbilt does not push iPads onto students (yet, at least), but rather leaves it as a personal decision.

About 36% of the VMS class of 2016 has tablet computers. The percentage of people who buy iPads increases yearly. In third year, the majority of the class purchases iPads for use in the clinical environment. Most people who own tablet computers in VMS 2016 purchased them prior to medical school for other reasons (56%), while the other 44% purchased a tablet specifically for medical school.

Vanderbilt has many resources available for tablet computers. Every new system being released will also be compatible. You will be able to access your class notes, watch lectures, access the library, and use proprietary Vanderbilt applications on your iPad. Tablets will also be available in the anatomy lab at every dissection table. These iPads will be loaded with multiple anatomy applications, class notes and resources, and dissection guides.

Of those who own tablet computers, 21% use them to take notes in class with a stylus and/or keyboard. Others prefer taking notes by hand or on their laptop. Most people use their iPads as an augmentation device to their laptop. This could be for many reasons, including resource availability, ease of use, etc. Vanderbilt is creating new resources to be used specifically on iPad, potentially pushing it into a primary device rather than one used only for augmentation.

The favorite medical applications of VMS 2016 include Netter’s Anatomy Atlas, Visual Body, Medscape, and Epocrates (among many others). Favorite non-medical applications include Notability, social media applications, Netflix/Hulu/HBO Go, study applications (StudyBlue), and news sources (If you’re interested, other responses included Summly, bandisintown, Tribez, SparkPeople, and Candy Crush). Vanderbilt also has several proprietary applications designed specifically for the medical school curriculum.

What kind of phone should I have?

Most people at Vanderbilt use iPhones (77%). The remainder use Android phones (20%) and non-smartphones (3%). A smartphone is not required at Vanderbilt, although it can be very useful, allowing immediate access to email, news, and online resources.

The choice between an iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone is a personal one. All of these operating systems are supported by Vanderbilt and can attach to Vanderbilt services.

So tell me all about lectures.

Every lecture at Vanderbilt is recorded and streamed live over the Internet. You can watch a lecture at home while it is happening, or you can sleep in and catch up later. Lectures can be slowed or sped up, allowing you to get through a two-hour epidemiology lecture faster or a one-hour pharmacology blitz at an acceptable rate. Attending lecture is entirely a personal decision. Skipping is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Some people prefer learning at their own rate in bed or at a coffee shop. Many of those who watch lectures online actually come to school and go to Au Bon Pain (coffee shop across from Light Hall) or the fishbowl (private study area on the third floor) and watch the lectures live, just not in the lecture hall. It is entirely up to you. For reference, about 64% of people prefer to go to class and 32% prefer watching them online. The percentage of people in class on a given day is around 40 – 60% of the total class.

People that go to lecture generally take notes via laptop (32%), by hand (49%), or on a tablet (7%). Others do not take notes and just listen or read. Once again, this is a personal decision, so do whatever best supports your learning. Tablet notes can be taken using a stylus and/or keyboard after importing the slides into a note taking application like Notability.

For every lecture, both PowerPoint presentations (in PDF form) and lecture notes are provided. The lecture notes and slides can be downloaded prior to lecture. The new resource management system will allow bundled downloads of resources onto your computer or tablet for annotation. Additionally, the lecture notes (not slides) are provided for each unit in print form. Many people like annotating these printed versions.