By Wendy Sarubbi | March 9, 2015 11:55 am

A man is found unresponsive in a grocery store parking lot with symptoms of a stroke. After being taken to the hospital, neurosurgeons use catheters to determine the source of the clot in the patient’s brain, and determine that he is suffering from a basal artery occlusion, a serious clot that can prove fatal without quick action.

This type of real-world scenario is seen every day in a hospital setting. On March 5, second-year students at the UCF College of Medicine had the opportunity to use high-tech angiogram simulators to practice removing a clot from a pretend patient. “They’re actually getting to manipulate a catheter,” said Dr. Michael Bellew, an assistant professor and board-certified neurosurgeon. “Having them do a physical activity and verbalizing what they’re doing with their colleagues, they’re engaging multiple senses. That has been linked to longer-term retention.”

Dr. Bellew was able to offer the hands-on simulations during the “Brain and Behavior” module thanks to a grant from Codman Neuro, a medical supply company that provided the surgical equipment. The grant allows the company to provide five simulators for the day, which would normally cost $12,500. “We’re very appreciative that Dr. Bellew continues to invite us, it’s really about education and training to properly diagnose patients,” said Sue Stolfi, manager of professional education at Codman. She led the stroke patient simulation, showing students how to maneuver the catheters into the basal artery and locate the clot quickly. Stolfi says that every minute counts when physicians deal with clots in the brain. “This procedure could mean less recovery time for the patient. It’s all about early diagnosis, restoring blood flow, and making sure that the brain is always oxygenated,” she said.

These angiograms are considered ‘highly specialized’ procedures and are done by certified neurosurgeons. Being able to participate in an angiogram is rare for medical students. “Love that UCF seeks out these opportunities for us,” said M.D. student Stacy Watson. “It’s easier to solidify the material we’re learning when you’re seeing it on the screen. I find myself saying ‘oh, I remember that vessel, it was really hard to get the catheter into!'”

Students say the simulations bring the brain’s anatomy to life, allowing them to see where each artery leads. “This really takes what we’re learning and shows us how it’s applied in the real world,” said medical student Lauren Kendall, who shadowed Dr. Bellew in his neurology practice before she entered medical school. Before touching the simulator, students had to decide which artery to explore, based on the patient’s symptoms. One patient was a 45-year-old smoker who was experiencing blurred vision in the right eye. Based on what they’ve learned in the classroom, students injected contrast dye into the common carotid artery. “It’s a review of their anatomy in solving the case,” said Dr. Bellew.

The simulation was one of the last traditional classes for second-year students before they begin studying for their STEP 1 exam and head into clerkships in community hospitals and clinics. “We’re going to be expected to do a lot of hands-on things in the next couple of months,” Watson said. “This is a cutting edge procedure that saves lives. It’s great to be able to practice it in a safe environment, and learn at the same time.”

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