3D Printing for Medical Education and Training

Article by Kelly Clancy updated June 23, 2016


The use of 3D printed anatomical replicas for medical education and training is steadily increasing, driven by a desire to find alternatives to expensive, hard-to-get cadavers; animal models that don’t include pathology; or mannequins that don’t represent the full range of clinical complexity.

3D printed static biomodels, instrumental for communicating anatomical structures, and physical simulators, which are used to practice medical procedures, may be valuable tools to address the training difficulties – but the benefits must be better understood. One thing that has been lacking until now is the comprehensive analysis of investigative works, trials and studies related to the education of students, residents and practitioners.

Learn more about medical training using realistic 3D printed simulators:

To provide an in-depth understanding of 3D printing’s advantages and efficacy, Stratasys has researched the current state of published science on the use of 3D printing as a tool for the advancement, acceleration and improvement of medical training. Working with an independent third party, Stratasys identified recent medical literature citing the use of 3D printing in education and training. The approaches, results and findings were then summarized in a Stratasys White Paper: “Enhancing Clinical Preparedness – Review of Published Literature on 3D Printing Applications for Medical Education and Training.”

A total of 31 scientific papers were analyzed. In these papers, anatomical replicas created via 3D printing were used as adjuncts or alternatives to traditional medical education tools. These 3D printed tools were used across nine specialties and in general medical training, and evaluated accordingly.

All studies report 3D printing to be a cost-effective solution. Based on the expense of the 3D printed replicas, excluding capital outlay and ongoing operational costs, the studies state that the technology is more affordable than all other physical models. Adams et al. report a 90% to 95% cost reduction versus plastinated models, and McMenamin et al. show that a $14,000 plastinated model can be replaced by a $350 3D printed replica. The studies report 3D printing costs, based on material consumption, ranging from $10 to $2,600.

What’s the evidence for 3D printed medical training models?

3D printed multi-material models can replicate the complexity and wide range of patient pathology, making them superior tools for medical education. But how do 3D printed models compare to traditional training methods?

In multiple peer reviews, users agree they can be an invaluable asset to training and better prepare practitioners for the clinical realm. The studies evaluated:

  • The cost effectiveness of 3D printed models compared to traditional methods
  • Student performance when learning with 2D methods such as textbook and CT imaging versus 3D printed models
  • A wide range of therapeutic areas including neurosurgery, ophthalmology, cardiology and oncology
  • The role 3D printed models can play in standardizing teaching and assessment techniques of trainees.
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Kelly Clancy

Kelly has been working in the 3D technology industry since 2014. Kelly is an Assistant Marketing Manager based at Javelin head office in Oakville, Ontario.