By Wendy Sarubbi | December 15, 2014 4:42 pm

Using a series of wires and tubes, the UCF medical student surgically “inserted” the stent into a virtual carotid artery supplying blood to the brain and then saw on a simulation screen what happened to his patient.

Thanks to a volunteer surgical faculty member and the Orlando VA, UCF College of Medicine first- and second-year students are learning early in their training the art and science of vascular surgery. Dr. Frederick Fisher, a VA vascular surgeon, offers the monthly sessions at the Veteran’s Health Administration SimLearn facility in Lee Vista’s Corporate Centre.

“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) earlier this year.

Each month, the students learn about a different surgical process and then take turns working with software that simulates that surgery. November’s session featuring a stenting of the carotid artery, is delicate and precise because the surgery impacts blood flow to the brain. The procedure is done to help prevent stroke in patients who have a blockage.

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 leaning, 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’s president.

Future seminars 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.”

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