By Wendy Sarubbi | September 8, 2014 1:55 pm

UCF medical students had the opportunity to participate in a Florida Hospital robotic surgery study during their lunch breaks recently in an effort to improve training for the high-tech surgery by testing people from all walks of life.

“Medical students are great for this because they have the knowledge, they have the culture, and they have the interest in robotics,” said Florida Hospital Systems Configuration Developer Alyssa Tanaka, who is helping conduct the study through the Nicholson Center at Celebration Health. “But since they don’t have surgery experience, they make the perfect novice.”

The study, sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, involves high-tech simulators, and puts participants through a series of robotic tests that are similar to a game. With names like “ring and rail” or “suture sponge” the digital games require students to use the controls to perform sewing motions or place a small ring through a pole-like object. The students are tested for accuracy over time. “We want to look at their learning curve,” said Tanaka, as she recruited student participants near the College of Medicine Café. . “We want to see how they progress, and then compare that to the other groups.”

Those other groups include expert surgeons, video gamers, health professionals like nurses and paramedics, and laypeople. The study seeks to find which groups can adapt to the robotics system best, and use that information to improve the training of robotic surgeons. “These medical students are part of the video game generation,” Tanaka said. “We think that those hand-eye coordination skills acquired through gaming could allow them to excel.” The study is also eager to see results from experienced gamers, who may perform simulations as well as surgeons. That knowledge could encourage more video game-like training for robotic surgeons.

Many students agreed that the simulation was challenging, and brought out their competitiveness. “There’s definitely pressure to not drop the needle,” said first-year student Heather Burke. “My goal was to get a higher score for every single round.”

For some College of Medicine students, the Florida Hospital study was not the first time they had experienced robotic simulation. During interviews, applicants visit Florida Hospital Celebration Health for tours, and many have been able to test out robotic surgery simulators before ever entering medical school. This long-standing partnership between the College of Medicine and Florida Hospital is one reason why the hospital’s Chief Technology Officer and Principal Investigator Dr. Roger Smith looked to UCF for his robotics study. “Our research at Florida Hospital Nicholson Center has benefited from the cooperative relationship that we have with the UCF College of Medicine,” said Dr. Smith, who is also an affiliated professor of medical education at UCF.

Dr. Smith recently mentored UCF medical students who studied robotics during their FIRE (Focused Inquiry And Research Experience) module, a two-year research experience every M.D. student must do on a topic of their choosing. Class of 2015 student Rikin Patel worked with Smith’s robotic surgery team for his FIRE project on simulated “telesurgery” using robotics. The results of that research have been submitted for journal publication. Smith is bringing on another student this fall, who will study the educational effectiveness of robotic simulators.  “This relationship has been a win-win for both organizations and we plan to keep it going in the future,” he said.

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