Surgeons perform the most complicated yet delicate operations. They have to treat their patients’ organs, slice tissues, and sew them together.
Given how intense and expensive it is to become a surgeon, this career commands prestige, reputation, and respect.
After over sixteen years of training, surgeons must be able to conduct operations successfully and excellently.
Surgeons cannot afford to make mistakes: the patients’ lives and their costly investments for the career are at stake.
So the question is: how do surgeons practice for surgical operations and treatments? This article will explain.
Piling up experience
During their years at medical school, would-be surgeons accumulate skills and techniques as they study.
For example, at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, surgical trainees observe and experience operations at public hospitals.
As they finish their graduate medical degree and internship, aspiring surgeons enhance their fundamental skills, such as communicating with patients and interpreting laboratory test results.
Once the surgical students are already allowed to participate in operations, they will practice removing tissues, using surgical equipment, and performing sutures.
This educational pattern is how surgeons first encounter and practice what they learned at medical school.
After becoming surgical residents, their skills have already improved since the time they were still trainees. By this time, they will practice what they learned in medical school, coupled with the new techniques they now have.
For example, they can master more suturing techniques, tie blood vessels, dissect nerves, and put surgical tools into the patients. They can also practice treating fractures and replacement procedures.
While the new surgery residents practice, the senior surgeons and staff mentor them, correct their mistakes, and give inputs about the procedures.
Therefore, as surgical trainees learn new techniques, they master these while practicing their old skills. This way, they improve and prepare for similar procedures in the future.
Surgeons and surgical students also utilize human cadavers to practice. Cadavers are corpses that surgeons and physicians use to practice.
Cadavers help doctors rehearse procedures without the “patient” feeling pain or risking his life. Surgeons can dissect the cadavers’ bodies and systems.
Not only surgeons use these: other specialists also experiment with cadavers. For example, pharmacologists test drugs and medication on them, while automakers use them as dummies in crash tests. Forensic investigators also measure how these corpses decompose.
But using cadavers has drawbacks as well. First, cadavers are expensive: a human corpse can cost up to AU $3,000 each. Their availability is also uncertain: the demand for cadavers went up while donations went down.
There are several reasons why this is the case. First, cadavers must be prepared within 24 hours after the donor had passed away. The corpse must also have no infectious diseases like AIDS or hepatitis. But, most importantly, the donor must have full consent to donate his body to a medical school or research facility.
The use and management of cadavers can fuel controversy as well among medical communities and ethicists. To mitigate this, cadaver facilities maintain the corpses’ dignity.
After embalming them for three months, the cadavers will lose their identity, treated as anonymous.
The cadaver’s identity does not matter since surgeons are concerned with the cadaver’s internal organs and systems.
As 3D printing advances, the surgical industry benefits from this technology.
Other than using corpses, many hospitals and medical schools use realistic and reusable plastic models instead.
Some of these even come with simulated sensations like pulses, slight movements, and organic texture.
Personalized yet intricate replicas of organs and systems help prepare surgeons even for rare surgical cases. Through such full-sized models, surgeons can replicate and practice how to operate.
Using 3D models, surgeons can also explore new techniques and perspectives for an upcoming surgery. This technology solves the limitations of 2D images and illustrations that surgical students use.
Surgeons can even learn more about human pathology and their specialization through these models. This way, they can avoid potential complications after surgeries while helping advance the field.
The US Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health launched the 3D Print Exchange. There, physicians and surgeons can download model plans for printers.
The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University is currently working on scanners that can translate patients’ organs into digital data that can be printed.
Practicing on animal meat and fruits
For most surgeons, however, traditional ways to practice surgery are most available. Through these centuries-old means, surgeons can rehearse sutures and delicate procedures.
Surgeons can operate on chicken feet since they have tissues and tendons similar to humans. These are also cheap in Asian markets.
Drumsticks and chicken breasts also help surgeons practice. Since the blood vessels here are tiny yet visible, surgeons can rehearse stitching them.
Pig feet are also effective in helping surgeons practice since they have tendons, muscles, fats, and tissues. However, pig feet might be more expensive than the alternatives.
Oranges help surgeons practice using needles to drain fluids and puncturing joints. Operating with oranges simulates the treatment for compartment syndrome (where surgeons puncture muscles with dangerously high pressure).
Grapes and latex gloves allow surgeons to practice stitching and cutting thin tissues and skin. Surgeons cut these with small scissors and sew them again. Even robots use grapes and latex gloves to rehearse precise and delicate procedures.
Surgeons can also suture bananas. Doing so also trains their hand placement, wrist rotation, and proficiency in using surgical instruments.
Sewing needles can be handy training tools for microsurgery. Arranging needles in two circles on a block, surgeons will pass through a wire through each needle eyelet.
As declared by a 2011 study, this challenging practice scheme helps surgeons train their precision without using animals for practice.
Using training kits and viewing tutorials
Even though they are already accredited, full-fledged surgeons still use training kits and tutorials to review and practice. These kits include silicon pads and mats, dummies, and replicas of tools.
Surgeons also research new surgical techniques, read surgical manuals, and find substitutes for human flesh.
Instructional videos for surgeons are available even on YouTube. These cover topics from hand position to suture to surgeon testimonials.