Simulating surgery: Competition has students playing doctor

By Jane Collins ’18

A competition last week challenged students to use surgical tools most of them had

never used before.

It may sound like a scene out of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” but for three

Lafayette students, it’s an experience that will prepare them for their future careers

as surgeons.

Last week, students Steven Nesbit ‘17, Andrew Baker ‘18 and Justin Ungerleider ‘19,

members of Lafayette’s Health Professions Club, finished the first round in a multi-

round competition against Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College and Moravian

College. The competition tested their ability to use laparoscopic and robotic

simulator tools that are prevalent in modern surgery.

This April, they will be competing again, travelling to the Surgery Education Center

at the Lehigh Valley Health Network – Cedar Crest for the second round of the

competition.

According to Nesbit, who founded the Health Professions Club his sophomore year,

the club came up with the idea to organize the Laparoscopy Skills Olympics last

semester.

“We started thinking about what events we could do in the spring and one of the

things that came up was…the Laparoscopy Skills Olympics which is what the

American College of Surgeons hosts,” Nesbit said.

Nesbit said that the “Lap Olympics” involves students using laparoscopic tools, the

most common tools used in surgery today, to complete eight simple tasks, like

stringing beads onto a shoelace, in order to improve the motor skills required to use

these tools in actual surgery.

For Baker, inserting plastic shapes into their correct spots on a board using the

laparoscopic tools was the most fun part of the competition.

“It was very similar to a child’s game, with a difficult twist,” Baker said.

Nesbit and Baker will be competing in the laparoscopic competition in April, having

tied for first place in the first round of the competition that occurred last week.

Nesbit and Ungerleider, who placed first and second respectively last week, will also

be competing in the robotic simulator competition in April. The robotic simulator is

a newer device being used in surgery that is minimally invasive but just as difficult

to master as the laparoscopic tools.

In this part of the competition, Ungerleider and Nesbit will use the robotic simulator

to stack metal crates and dominos; whoever can stack the most in two minutes wins.

The catch? None of the student competitors had used any the tools prior to the first

round of the competition last week.

For many, that would seem like a troubling obstacle. But not for Nesbit.

“That’s the fun,” Nesbit said. “You don’t practice. Nothing is expected of you. There’s

pressure to compete with something you’ve never done before. There’s no way you

can prepare for it.”

Baker felt a similar thrill.

“Ultimately, it confirmed the presumption I had about becoming a surgeon. It gave

me a taste for the excitement, and now I want to go back,” Baker said. “Luckily, I get

the chance to.”

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