Share this article on:

Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School

Azzam, Amin MD, MA; Bresler, David MD, MA; Leon, Armando MD; Maggio, Lauren PhD; Whitaker, Evans MD, MLIS; Heilman, James MD; Orlowitz, Jake; Swisher, Valerie; Rasberry, Lane; Otoide, Kingsley; Trotter, Fred; Ross, Will; McCue, Jack D. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001381
Innovation Reports
AM Rounds Blog Post

Problem Most medical students use Wikipedia as an information source, yet medical schools do not train students to improve Wikipedia or use it critically.

Approach Between November 2013 and November 2015, the authors offered fourth-year medical students a credit-bearing course to edit Wikipedia. The course was designed, delivered, and evaluated by faculty, medical librarians, and personnel from WikiProject Medicine, Wikipedia Education Foundation, and Translators Without Borders. The authors assessed the effect of the students’ edits on Wikipedia’s content, the effect of the course on student participants, and readership of students’ chosen articles.

Outcomes Forty-three enrolled students made 1,528 edits (average 36/student), contributing 493,994 content bytes (average 11,488/student). They added higher-quality and removed lower-quality sources for a net addition of 274 references (average 6/student). As of July 2016, none of the contributions of the first 28 students (2013, 2014) have been reversed or vandalized. Students discovered a tension between comprehensiveness and readability/translatability, yet readability of most articles increased. Students felt they improved their articles, enjoyed giving back “specifically to Wikipedia,” and broadened their sense of physician responsibilities in the socially networked information era. During only the “active editing months,” Wikipedia traffic statistics indicate that the 43 articles were collectively viewed 1,116,065 times. Subsequent to students’ efforts, these articles have been viewed nearly 22 million times.

Next Steps If other schools replicate and improve on this initiative, future multi-institution studies could more accurately measure the effect of medical students on Wikipedia, and vice versa.

Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text.

A. Azzam is associate clinical professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

D. Bresler is resident physician, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.

A. Leon is resident physician, San Mateo County Psychiatry Residency Training Program, San Mateo, California.

L. Maggio is associate professor, Department of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.

E. Whitaker is education and information consultant for medicine, Library and Center for Knowledge Management, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

J. Heilman is clinical assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

J. Orlowitz is head, Wikipedia Library, Wikimedia Foundation, San Francisco, California.

V. Swisher is board member, Translators Without Borders, and chief executive officer, Content Rules, Inc., Los Gatos, California.

L. Rasberry is Wikipedian in residence, Consumer Reports, Yonkers, New York.

K. Otoide is cofounder,, Lagos, Nigeria.

F. Trotter is data journalist, DocGraph, Houston, Texas.

W. Ross is project manager, Mendocino Informatics, Inc., Mendocino, California.

J.D. McCue is emeritus professor of medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: Between June 2015 and December 2015, James Heilman served on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. Lane Rasberry is a Wikipedian in Residence at Consumer Reports. Jake Orlowitz is a paid employee of the Wikipedia Library at the Wikimedia Foundation.

Ethical approval: The University of California, San Francisco institutional review board reviewed this research and deemed it exempt from formal review.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government and its agencies; the Wikimedia Foundation; or Consumer Reports.

Previous presentations: The exact results of this manuscript have not been presented before; however, portions have been presented at the Western Group on Educational Affairs Annual Meeting, May 2013, Irvine, California; the Western Group on Educational Affairs Annual Meeting, March 2014, Honolulu, Hawaii; the University of California, San Francisco Education Symposium, April 2014, San Francisco, California; the Stanford Medicine X Conference, September 2014, Palo Alto, California; the Medicine 2.0 Conference, November 2014, Maui, Hawaii; the Western Group on Educational Affairs Annual Meeting, April 2015, San Diego, California; the Naturopathic Medical Student Association Annual Meeting, August 2015, San Diego, California; the University of California, San Francisco Education Showcase, April 2015, San Francisco, California; and the Stanford Medicine X Ed Conference, September 2015, Palo Alto, California.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at

An AM Rounds blog post on this article is available at

Correspondence should be addressed to Amin Azzam, UCSF Department of Psychiatry, Box 0984-MSE, 401 Parnassus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94143-0984; telephone: (415) 476-7836; e-mail:; Twitter: @AminMDMA.

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CCBY), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

© 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges