Leaders in Medical Education

Niels Hapke, CEO of kenHub

Ashley Eaves
Published on Sep 21, 2015. Updated on Invalid date.

Niels Hapke (@NHapke) is the CEO/Co-Founder of Kenhub, a resource for medical students to use to help them learn Anatomy. We are excited to be featuring him as part of our Leaders in Medical Education Series.

How did you first become interested in medicine? In medical education?
My interest in medicine was predominantly sparked by the inception of Kenhub itself. The concept for Kenhub stemmed from discussions with a medical student friend of ours; he was immensely frustrated with the lack of accessible anatomy education resources online. The resources he had to work with were much the same as those that medical students likely used 100 years ago. At around the same time I was using an online picture-based learning program to learn the Russian language, and we realized that a similar resource could do much to improve the plight of the modern day medical student.

Our primary goal during the early stages of development was to bring the old guard of medical education (kicking and screaming as it may) successfully into the e-learning age. Knowledge is constantly being updated in the medical industry and education as a whole is moving at a much faster pace than it was 100 years ago, making the development of a corresponding medical education platform essential.

Can you share your background on how you got to where you are right now?
My background is in computer science and my co-founders are a merry team of entrepreneurs, e-learning enthusiasts, developers and medical content experts. We started as a collaborative project, first enlisting the help of the Charité University hospital in Berlin to apply for a new business initiative grant, which we received in 2012. Our team has since expanded to incorporate medical anatomy professors, practising physicians, and a wide variety of anatomy experts and medical students who optimize and check our content for accuracy before it gets posted to the platform.

How did you come up with the idea for Kenhub? What was your motivation?
Of all educational curricula out there, medical students have it the toughest. The knowledge they need to commit to memory is vast and the time is limited. They are under a great deal of pressure from the get-go and do not have the time to find innovative ways to study; they need to hit the ground running with what they are provided, even if those materials prove out of date or insufficient for their needs. Kenhub was built to fill the gap between the resources out there and the modern day. The platform is based on five principles:

Small goals = big success: Setting small tangible goals for students which build a sense of achievement and encouragement to continue. This is also achieved through simplifying complex topics within the discipline of anatomy.

Efficient repetition: Being exposed to the same information in different ways strengthens the retention of learning materials. Creating several paths for your brain to recall information results in faster and more efficient information recall.

Spaced repetition: This involves revisiting already-learned material and integrating it with new material, maximizing and reinforcing long-term knowledge retention.

The true macro perspective: Kenhub tracks how far students have come so they have some perspective on their studies. A personal progress dashboard tracks the number of hours trained and terms learned to date, so that students are not just confronted with how far they have yet to go; they can see what they have already achieved. Adaptive technology also targets each user’s weaknesses and guides their learning, providing a personalised interactive education that just isn’t possible with textbooks alone.

Long term support: We were determined from the get go to set ourselves apart from other e-learning in that we would offer ‘non-robotic’ customer support. We are actually interested in helping students beyond the ken of our own content portal and provide study tips and other relevant material via social media, as well as answering content questions and addressing the study concerns of our subscribers. Because Kenhub is mobile optimized, students have constant access to our platform without the need of a special app or interface.

Where would you like to see Kenhub in the next year? Five years?
We would like to develop further collaborations with other e-learning platforms to increase both the breadth and the depth of content that Kenhub has to offer. We are constantly asking for feedback from our users and assessing their needs as a guide to our future development. We are investigating areas such as cadaveric content, histology, surgery, and how these can be incorporated into Kenhub as a learning resource.

Have you ever run into any speed bumps or obstacles while developing Kenhub? If so, how did you deal with them?

To date the biggest challenge Kenhub has had is finding the right people to join the team, from content creation to marketing and sales. At the development end of things we see ourselves more as tech nerds, and particularly with content and student interaction we wanted the highest quality of staff possible to ensure the best content and support for our subscribers.

Another challenge we face is in acquiring new materials that students need. Many students have provided us with feedback telling us it would help to have access to such materials as cadaveric content, cross-sectional anatomy and histology. For reasons of ethical concern regarding publication it is more difficult to get this material than the content we have created ourselves, but we are working on it!


What are 2-3 changes you would like to see in the current medical education system or health care system?
I can only speak for the German system but I would like to see more weight put onto education as a whole – Prestige is increasingly being granted exclusively to researchers and not educators; medical instruction has become a thankless task. When we think that instructors for our medical students are basically building the foundation of the future of medicine, this is a matter of great concern.

Medical education is also still based on a lecture format, which does not encourage an active mode in learning. Kenhub was developed in part to encourage students to actively engage with the information they need to learn to become successful medical professionals.

I also worry that doctors are being educated to become “machines”: with increasing digitalization comes a lack of encouragement to deal with patients in a humane way with care and understanding. Physicians are trained to recognize patterns in data instead of looking into each situation individually. It is fundamental that with more patient data than ever stored in a digital record that the patient herself is not overlooked. One of the strengths of Kenhub is our determination to retain a personalized evaluation for our students. We work with technology to create a personalized learning experience, not just throwing material out there to be consumed but evaluating the data that comes back, (aka. the learning patterns of our students), to direct them to areas of their studies which need repetition and improvement. And because the key to knowledge doesn’t end with memorization we provide that material in four different formats to re-contextualize it and therefore integrate it into the student’s understanding as well as the student’s memory.

Do you have any final thoughts regarding the medical profession as a whole?
I’m interested in seeing the medical industry modernize; that is, allowing the potential of today’s technology to further develop and strengthen teaching techniques within the industry. With internet access students now have access to resources they have never had before; watching surgery by professionals via video, simulating test procedures with digitally enhanced training models, and access to a constantly growing archive of historical data and case studies. The profession as a whole has to embrace these resources and use them to benefit future practitioners of medicine from the outset of their education.

Despite existing on a digital platform, Kenhub personalizes their content serving to remind students that they are individuals with individual learning needs. We hope that they will take this with them into their professional practise when dealing with patients, colleagues, and fellow researchers.