Can you cut it as a surgeon?
Can members of the publics with no medical experience perform virtual keyhole surgery at a comparable level to professionals? Clio Heslop visited London’s Science Museum to find out.
For eight days, an inflatable operating theatre containing a computerised replication of keyhole surgery has sprung up in the Science Museum’s ‘Who Am I?’ Galleries, recreating every detail of a gall bladder removal down to the latex gloves. ‘Can you cut it as a surgeon?’ is a new Wellcome Trust-funded installation offering the public an insight into the skills required of professional surgeons.
In the first three days, nearly 100 members of the public completed the 15-minute procedure, throwing up some very surprising results – the current record for the best time is held by an eight-year-old girl!
As we arrived a large crowd of inquisitive visitors had gathered. The team behind the installation – researcher and surgeon Alexander Harris and a collection of volunteer medical students – were on hand to introduce the project, answer questions and get the participants ready for action.
I couldn’t resist having a go myself. Fully ‘scrubbed up’ I was guided through the training programme – positioning staples in the correct places along an artery. Once I had perfected my technique I moved on to perform my first ever surgical procedure. I was surprised at how immersed I became in the process, barely noticing the five minutes passing. I began to feel the urgency and concentration required to be a top surgeon. The experts were on hand to help me out at key moments, positioning the staples and cauterising the veins to safely remove the gall bladder.
Advancements of the past twenty years mean that laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery has overtaken open surgery for operations such as the cholesystectomy (surgical removal of the gall bladder).
It is this operation that forms the basis of the simulation. The method only requires three or four initial incisions, each around a centimetre in diameter. This is infinitely favourable compared to the 20cm cut needed for a traditional gall bladder removal, resulting in shorter recover time, lower risk of infection and less post-operative pain.
The installation is the brainchild of Roger Kneebone, Professor of Surgical Education at Imperial College London, who recognised the potential of using cutting edge simulation software as a means for educating the public about keyhole procedures.
The benefits of using a simulation include the ability to log the time taken, the path of your hand movements and how long that path was overall, as well as the number of errors incurred (mainly associated with tissue handling). For surgical trainees, this is an ideal way to track improvements in surgical skills. Indeed, once the simulation completes its residency at the museum it will be housed at St Mary’s Hospital. There the research team will continue to compare the results achieved by public and professionals.
Another question the team hopes to address with the installation is whether experience in playing video games will affect aptitude for keyhole surgery techniques. The same skill in judging depth of vision, using subtle hand movements and translating two and three dimensions is required for both activities. One young visitor – who wants to be a surgeon –managed the procedure in an exceptionally fast time. This prompted another question: could will to succeed affect the result?
How did I do? Surprisingly I managed to get a competitive time, only 10 seconds slower than a professional surgeon! However my erratic hand movements and five errors in tissue handling proved that I’m nowhere near the professional level just yet.
Clio Heslop is a summer intern at the Wellcome Trust.
‘Can you cut it as a surgeon?’ runs at the Science Museum until Tuesday 26th July 2011.