Legacy Meridian program gives students hands-on intro to robotic surgery gadgets

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sherwood High School student Sara Aguilar enjoys using a da Vinci surgical robot at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin. The students were there as part of a Robot Academy at the hospital, where they could explore future career options. More than two dozen Sherwood High School students donned scrubs last week to get hands-on surgical training in an operating room that had been used for a routine hysterectomy just an hour before.

For one day, the group of mostly high school seniors attended what Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center is calling its Robot Academy.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Using finger guides, Sherwood students used a da Vinci medical machine to guide robot arms in a practice exercise at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. “This is a great opportunity to partner with the schools in the towns that we serve and really give kids an opportunity to come to the hospital and see an actual operating room suite,” Director of Surgical Services Pete Mersereau said. “They can see the technology that we utilize in today’s healthcare.”

Mersereau explained that in addition to trying out the surgical equipment, students learn the differences between various surgical procedures, including the laparoscopic approach versus more recent robotic surgical technology.

As half the group rotated through work stations on an upper level of the hospital, Mersereau asked, “Who didn’t see the gallbladder removal?”

Several eager students pushed forward to view a large flat-screen monitor that displayed graphic footage of the surgical procedure. Although presentations like this are meant in part to introduce students in the Occupational Health program to daily on-the-job realities of various health care professions, the video wasn’t meant to test their resolve — or nausea threshold. It was a demonstration of robotic surgery.

Minimally invasive surgery has become commonplace in past decades as laparoscopic surgery gained popularity. This approach uses video to enable internal access through smaller incisions, and has become standard in surgical procedures like hysterectomies, as well as kidney and gallbladder removal.

Laparoscopic surgery has obvious cosmetic advantages, leaving patients with much smaller scars, but it also offers patients a reduced recovery time and lowered risk of hemorrhaging. Still, laparoscopy presents considerable visual and ergonomic stress to surgeons working with limited visibility and hindered movement.

By contrast, the da Vinci system seats doctors more comfortably at a unit across the room while nurses and surgical staff remain around the patient. This actually improves access for the surgeon, who is able to look straight at magnified, three-dimensional footage of the procedure without redirecting his eyes. The surgeon’s console includes hand controls and foot pedals that direct four robotic “arms”: three to hold instruments and one that positions a small endoscopic camera.

“The main reason for why surgeons like this (approach) is it gives them 3-D, 10-times-magnified vision,” said da Vinci representative Brody Barnes, who was on hand to train students on the machine. “It (provides) wristed instruments, so they feel they can put their actual hands inside the patient, and it’s minimally invasive. And then they have (another) arm and all the instruments articulate like they’re human hands.”

Barnes added that the patient benefits were both financial and physical. “With reduced length of stay, they go home faster, so there’s less blood loss, (fewer) complications and an overall reduction in health care costs,” Barnes said.

Robotic surgery is gaining popularity for procedures like hysterectomy, as well as gallbladder, kidney and prostate removal. The technique is being used in some cardiac surgeries as well. But even if the da Vinci approach serves as one’s robotic extension, surgeons must undergo extensive formal training before they use a robotic approach in the operating room.

In-class work experience

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center physical therapist Anne Alley watches as some of the Sherwood High students she mentors use a robotic device during a practice session that is televised on operating room screens. Students were invited to try their hands at robotic surgery through a simulation that asked them to attempt removal of a wish bone, a wrenched ankle and stomach-butterflies on a very familiar “patient”: a high-tech version of the Milton Bradley Operation game. While the familiarity of the simulation put the students at ease, Mersereau pointed out they were able to experience how intuitive the robotic system really was.

Kari Turner directs the Health Occupations program at SHS and was impressed by how quickly her 26 students became adept at controlling the da Vinci unit’s robotic arms. Turner pointed out that many of these students had honed similar skills through many hours with an unlikely teacher — video games.

By taking advantage of opportunities like the Robot Academy, the Health Occupations program offers students interested in the medical field exposure to a variety of health care professions. Students take anatomy and physiology courses, but much of their first two trimesters in the program is spent on career exploration, Turner explained. Students are then required to complete 35 hours of “shadowing” on their own, where they observe and often follow medical professionals through a typical day or procedure.

“A lot of them don’t know exactly what they want to do,” Turner said of her students. “And a lot of them are looking at really expensive colleges, and they know they don’t have time or money to change their mind a bunch of times.” She added that shadowing becomes a way for them to experience the daily routines of any given position and see if it might be a fit.

Senior Kelsey Niebergall recently shadowed a labor and delivery nurse at Providence Newberg Medical Center.

“I just kind of fell in love with that profession, but I hear that a lot of nurses love (labor and delivery) first,” she said.

Before deciding on a particular field, Niebergall looks forward to shadowing a variety of other nurses. She recently joined her mother, a trauma nurse, at work.

Senior Natalie Thomas plans to major in sports science, with the hope of one day becoming a physician assistant.

“I thought going through this program would really help me see what other jobs are out there,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of shadowing. It’s really opened me up to opportunities that you don’t really even hear about or know about.”

The experience has also allowed Thomas to weigh the lifestyle demands of a variety of occupations, and she’s found she prefers the idea of a clinic setting that would provide more predictable hours and an easier work-life balance.

The Robot Academy was a blend of classroom experience, guest speaker presentations and one-on-one shadowing, with Mersereau, Registered Nurse Jodie Saldanha and General Surgeon Brent K. Evetts on hand to discuss their experiences working with robotic surgery technology. Through his experience training surgeons through da Vinci simulation drills, Barnes demonstrated another potential medical career option.

For the students who decided surgery was for them, getting behind the da Vinci controls proved encouraging.

“Now they can say, ‘I did pretty good on the simulations, I can do this,’” Turner said.

And whether or not students are ultimately inspired to pursue a high-tech career in the operating room, it was clear they found their time in the Robot Academy nothing short of mind-blowing.

“It was fantastic just to see where our healthcare is going, and see how many different avenues there are” for students, Turner said. “I’ve got a lot of kids who aren’t into blood and guts, but are very gifted when it comes to the engineering side, so that was very cool to see.”

Contract Publishing

Go to top