University of Central Florida students learn vascular surgery techniques at VHA National Simulation - VHA SimLEARN
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University of Central Florida students learn vascular surgery techniques at VHA National Simulation

By Anjelica Partridge
oordinator, Information & Publication Services
UCF College of Medicine

ORLANDO, Fla. – Medical students from the University of Central Florida (UCF) conducted simulation training Nov. 14 at the VHA SimLEARN National Simulation Center. Dr. Frederick Fisher, a VA vascular surgeon who also volunteers at UCF, recently offered monthly sessions to first- and second-year students learning techniques in vascular surgery with the assistance of SimLEARN staff.

The training this day involved stenting of the carotid artery. The precise and delicate surgery impacts blood flow to the brain. The procedure is done to help prevent stroke in patients who have a blockage. The UCF medical students surgically "inserted" stents into a virtual carotid artery supplying blood to the brain and then observed what happened to their patient on a simulation screen.

"Initially we opened our clinic to fourth-year medical students, and I noticed that there were very few students who were interested in vascular surgery at that point. It was my conclusion that students need to see this type of procedure early in their education," said Dr. Fisher, who reached out to the students’ Vascular Surgery Interest Group (VSIG) early in 2014. "The medical students are doing an elective in vascular surgery simulation as part of their medical school curriculum. I am the supervising physician in my role as volunteer faculty."

Second-year student Zoran Pavlovic said the software – which is typically used for surgical residents – helps young medical students learn surgical procedures without any risk to a patient.

"These simulators are so great, because you can make mistakes while you’re learning, and it will tell you exactly what you did wrong," he said. "You’re actually trying to learn the machine and learn the individual patient case at the same time. That’s where some of the frustrations come in."

Though the learning wasn’t easy, the UCF students were eager to get a chance at the surgery. Dr. Fisher looked on and offered tips, but mostly allowed students to learn by trial and error.

"The hope is to provide opportunities for students to develop more skills, so that by the time we reach clerkships, we can have the confidence and foundation to participate in a real case," said second-year student Ben Eslahpazir, VSIG president.

Future sessions will include renal artery stenting and abdominal aneurysm repair, with each new lesson building on previous ones and getting more difficult. Dr. Fisher said he is confident the UCF medical students are up for the challenge.

"I’ve been very impressed with the students’ talent for this, especially at such a young age," he said. "I think they will see as time goes on that the learning curve will get quicker. They’re so far ahead of the curve at this point, that it’s really remarkable."