The Importance of Manual Dexterity in Medicine and Dentistry

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2021-05-05

What is manual dexterity?

Manual dexterity is the ability to effectively use your hands and fingers with precision. It is an important skill to have in medicine, especially for surgeons who must be able to carry out delicate procedures. After all, a surgeon is only as good as their hands. For example, incorrect suturing (stitching up surgical incisions) can lead to improper healing and infection. 

Manual dexterity is also important for dentists who carry out delicate dental procedures on a daily basis.

Surgeons using fine motor skills to perform a suture

Manual dexterity and your medical or dental school interview

Manual dexterity is a topic that can come up at medical and dental interviews. For example, you might be asked why it is important for certain specialties and how you’ve acquired and improved it. 

You can also include such reflections in your personal statements, although this is more common for dental school applicants than medicine. In a dental interview, you might even be asked to actively demonstrate your manual dexterity, for example, by using fine tweezers to transfer beads or bending a thin metal wire into a specific shape.

An interview case study for manual dexterity

This example shows careful reflection on manual dexterity and links it to medicine:

“I’ve gained manual dexterity through playing the violin from a young age. For the first six months, I could only produce a squeaky sound. However, I kept practising and my resilience paid off as I eventually became the concertmaster at my school orchestra four years later. I’ve come to learn that you can improve just about any skill with patience and diligence, and I will apply this lesson when I undertake clinical training.”
A person practising the violin

How to improve manual dexterity

As society’s reliance on technology and automation grows, people are becoming less nimble with their hands. More and more students are typing their notes than writing them out. Experts have suggested that there is a decline in manual dexterity in medical students.

Manual dexterity exercises

  1. Squeeze play-dough or clay to strengthen hand muscles
  2. Pick things up with a clothespin.
  3. Use tweezers to pick up small objects.
  4. Use kitchen tongs to pick up larger balls.
  5. Ball up a piece of paper with one hand (using only one hand the entire time, crumple up a piece of paper into a ball and then smooth it back out again).
  6. Stretch 2-3 rubber bands between your index finger and thumb.
Threading as a hobby to improve manual dexterity

Or try something more fun

Hobbies are a more natural way to improve your manual dexterity:

  • Crocheting
  • Drawing and painting
  • Knitting
  • Learning an instrument, such as the violin or piano
  • Origami 
  • Soap carving or wood carving
  • Sewing

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