Background: Simulation is progressively being integrated into surgical training; however, its utility in plastic surgery has not been well described. The authors present a prospective, randomized, blinded trial comparing digital simulation to a surgical textbook for conceptualization of cleft lip repair. Methods: Thirty-five medical students were randomized to learning cleft repair using a simulator or a textbook. Participants outlined markings for a standard cleft lip repair before (preintervention) and after (postintervention) 20 minutes of studying their respective resource. Two expert reviewers blindly graded markings according to a 10-point scale, on two separate occasions. Intrarater and interrater reliability were calculated using intraclass correlation coefficients. Paired and independent t tests were performed to compare scoring between study groups. A validated student satisfaction survey was administered to assess the two resources separately. Results: Intrarater grading reliability was excellent for both raters for preintervention and postintervention grading (rater 1, intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.94 and 0.95, respectively; rater 2, intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.60 and 0.92, respectively; p < 0.001). Mean preintervention performances for both groups were comparable (0.82 ± 1.17 versus 0.64 ± 0.95; p = 0.31). Significant improvement from preintervention to postintervention performance was observed in the textbook (0.82 ± 1.17 versus 3.50 ± 1.62; p < 0.001) and simulator (0.64 ± 0.95 versus 6.44 ± 2.03; p < 0.001) groups. However, the simulator group demonstrated a significantly greater improvement (5.81 ± 2.01 versus 2.68 ± 1.49; p < 0.001). Participants reported the simulator to be more effective (p < 0.001) and a clearer tool (p < 0.001), that allowed better learning (p < 0.001) than textbooks. All participants would recommend the simulator to others. Conclusion: The authors present evidence from a prospective, randomized, blinded trial supporting online digital simulation as a superior educational resource for novice learners, compared with traditional textbooks.
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