Using Technology to Train Surgeons

Eyesi Surgical SimulatorOphthalmology residents at the University of Pittsburgh have an exciting new hi-tech teaching tool! Thanks to contributions from the Joseph Horne Trust and generous donors to the residents’ education fund, the Department of Ophthalmology was recently able to purchase a VR Magic Eyesi® Surgical Simulator, a high-end virtual reality simulator for intraocular surgery training. This $250,000 state-of-the-art training tool will allow the next generation of ocular surgeons enhanced training opportunities outside those found in a traditional surgical training laboratory.

“The traditional model of training for surgery was to bring residents to the operating room, have them watch faculty, and then bit by bit start doing first steps on live patients. This was supplemented over the years by a surgical training lab,” explains Evan “Jake” Waxman, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and the Director of the UPMC Eye Center Mercy.

“Even though we have quite a good surgical training lab here at the University of Pittsburgh, there is an activation barrier to only training in the lab, whether it’s the cost of materials, or the time setting up and cleaning the lab, etc. The VR Magic is going to decrease the activation barrier for our residents. It is something they will be able to do in their spare time,” states Dr. Waxman.

The surgical simulator, aside from its ease of use, also offers residents and medical students the opportunity to train in an interesting, interactive way. According to Dr. Waxman, the simulator uses, ‘video-game-like’ programs that will allow users to practice certain hands training and muscle memory skills that are beneficial in surgical training. This additional training will better prepare residents as they move from the training laboratory to the operating room. A recent study in the U.K. showed that complication rates in cataract surgery being done by first and second-year residents decreased by 38% after training with the Eyesi Surgical Simulator.

Dr. Waxman and Dr. Ian Conner, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Chief of the Glaucoma Service, both agree that the simulator will serve as a tool for additional training, and not a replacement of the traditional surgical training laboratory, where residents perform vital, hands-on training using real and synthetic tissue matter.

“I think it’s likely that as we look at the exercises built into the VR Magic, we are going to go back to our surgical training laboratory and apply some of the principals learned in the surgical simulator,” adds Dr. Waxman, while stressing how important donations are to expanding the training capabilities within the Department. “We couldn’t get equipment like this without the generosity of the donors to the Eye & Ear Foundation.”

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