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Clicker Training in the OR: Karen Pryor’s Latest Research

Filed in - Science - Press

As Research Director for KPCT, Karen Pryor has been as involved as ever with positive reinforcement training. One of her latest projects is a study undertaken with Martin Levy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and residency program director at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Dr. Levy and Karen set out to determine if surgical residents trained with clicker training principles (step-by-step chains of behavior, event markers, rewards, and more) would complete their training with faster and more precise basic surgery skills such as using surgical power tools, setting up surgical instruments, and tying suture knots.

The students in this study received satisfaction in their achievement (and the acknowledgement of that achievement from their instructor) as their reward for performing proper techniques. No edible treat or tug toy necessary, as the new residents realized the importance of mastering the skills from the start.

The results of the pilot study where surgical residents were grouped into “traditional” and “operant” learning groups showed that the students in the operant group were more precise and more proficient! Both groups were as quick in completing the tasks.

Dr. Levy plans to expand the pilot study, including other physicians and working to measure how surgery students become better prepared more quickly using positive-reinforcement techniques. The study’s original findings were published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research in the fall of 2015.


Read a recent article about this study in Scientific American. The Scientific American article includes quotes from TAGteach founder Theresa McKeon and ClickerExpo speaker and faculty member Dr. Susan Friedman.