Surgeon Simulation: Practice Makes Perfect


CHICAGO. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Practice makes perfect, right? But what happens when the stakes could be life and death and there hasn’t been a lot of practice? There are some surgeries and procedures that are so rare and complex most pediatric surgeons’ skills get rusty. Now, med schools around the country are turning to HiDef technology to help surgeons maintain their skills.

The patient is just three days old with a hernia so dangerous a surgeon has to operate immediately to save his life.

It looks bad for the newborn, but this time, it’s okay. The surgical resident will have a second, third, even 50th chance to perfect this rare procedure in Northwestern University’s simulation lab.

Colin Gause, MD, a resident at Case Western told Ivanhoe, “I think it makes all of us feel better about our ability to deliver optimal care by being able to practice on these models rather than a patient.”

Katherine Barsness, MD, MS, Director of Surgical Simulation at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, explained, “It gives the learners a safe environment in which to work out the kinks. They can make their mistakes before you ever have a real patient in front of you.”

Dr. Barsness is turning the next generation of good doctors into great ones.

“I can stress them and I can make them perform under each and every single stressor,” said Dr. Barsness. “Some of the professional skills are the ability to communicate with your peers, the ability to take leadership in critical moments.”

Ben Schwab, MD, a resident at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine detailed, “Being able to learn how to handle the needles and the laparoscopic instruments, those are the kind of things that are universal to a lot of different operations.”

These realistic 3D models are designed to mimic the complex, yet delicate, structure of infant organs.

“I know I don’t want my grandchildren having an operation by somebody who hasn’t done one, Dr. Barsness told Ivanhoe. “I want the person who says I’m an expert and I can prove it.”

When life and death is determined by the slightest flick of the wrist, practice doesn’t just make perfect, it saves a life.

Dr. Barsness  said simulation training not only improves surgical skills, it shortens operation time, and minimizes harm to the patient. It also saves money on healthcare.

Contributors to this news report include: Jessica Sanchez, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Brent Sucher, Videographer.

REPORT #2364

BACKGROUND: Having surgery is a significant event, no matter how small or minor the procedure is. Every surgery has its own percentage of risk and/or complication, but as surgeons progress through their training, they are exposed to an increased number of complicated cases which allows them to be better prepared to face these challenges. Traditionally, the physician has improved their surgical skills through a combination of observation and supervised surgery; but, there can come a time where a case is so rare and complex that the surgeon’s skills are just rusty.

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SURGERY SIMULATION: With the funding from the Children’s Research Fund Junior Board, Dr. Katherine Barsness and her team focus on advancing simulation-based education with the overall goal of minimizing surgical complications from high-risk events. They continue to construct increasingly sophisticated training devices, which allows less experienced physicians to improve their skills prior to performing a high-risk surgery. Dr. Barsness has collaborated with biomedical engineers and architectural designers in the Innovations Lab at the Center for Education in Medicine since 2011 in order to develop a great number of simulations that will help with high-risk cases. Examples of such cases vary from a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, which is a birth-defect where the intestines are displaced from the abdomen into the chest preventing the development of lungs; to an esophageal atresia, where the esophagus ends in a blind pouch rather than the stomach. These simulation models can work for something as simple as improving a specific surgical skill, to something as complicated as a complete operation where actual modified tissue is used to imitate specific abnormalities. In addition, Dr. Barsness’ lab is conducting on-going studies that demonstrate the impact these simulation-based training have on overall outcomes of procedures, as well as how it improves physicians’ skills.


BEYOND BORDERS: Access and availability of skilled surgical talent is lacking in some regions of the world causing death or permanent disability for many infants and children from treatable conditions. To help with this acute problem, Dr. Barsness is working on a program to establish regional simulation centers across the country, which would be in addition to her traveling to underdeveloped countries to train surgeons and bringing these surgeons Chicago for training. More than 350 surgeons from across the globe have trained using her approach in the last several years.


* For More Information, Contact:

Katherine Barsness, MD

Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

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