High School Students Sharpen Skills Useful in Surgery

Published June 6, 2019

A select group of Western New York high school students learned surgical skills this spring under the guidance of surgeons doing their residency training at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Focusing on Enhancing Hand-Eye Coordination

For the past two months, 100 high school juniors and seniors met after school, either at their home school or in the surgical simulation center of the Jacobs School in downtown Buffalo.

Under the watchful eyes — and hands — of UB medical residents in the Department of Surgery, the students used video games and 3D simulators to try and learn some of the hand-eye coordination and fine muscle movements that surgeons rely on when performing operations.

Held for the first time this year, the program is aimed at inspiring students in Western New York to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The Department of Surgery hopes to hold the event each year.

“As physicians in the Jacobs School, which was built, on purpose, right in the middle of our city, we feel we have an obligation to the students who ride by our building in school buses every day to help them understand the wonderful opportunity that they can benefit from that’s right in front of them in this medical school,” says Steven D. Schwaitzberg, MD, professor and chair of surgery.

Video Games, 3D Simulators Hone Skills

Among the activities the students undertook:

  • using hand-eye coordination to control drone simulation software to land in a specific time frame
  • playing the Super Monkey Ball video game, which has been proved to require similar muscle-memory activity as required when performing minimally invasive surgery
  • working the laparoscopic trainers that medical students use to do the peg pass, which requires fine motor control as the student uses a skinny grasper to move a peg from one hand to another, removing it from one peg and placing it into another
  • using the same graspers to hold a single navy bean and drop it into the correct small hole
  • practicing suturing skills with the same training materials surgical residents use to learn that skill

Hospitals, Other Organizations Lend Support

The top 50 students met on May 18 at the Jacobs School to compete in the Stealth Drone STEM medical robotics competition’s final round — with the top three students, as well as the top school team, earning trophies.

Twenty students from each of the following schools participated in the overall program:

  • East Community High School
  • Frederick Law Olmsted 
  • Hamburg High School Health Science Academy
  • Health Sciences Charter School
  • Research Laboratory Program for Bioinformatics & Life Sciences

Sponsors of the event were:

  • Erie County Medical Center Foundation
  • Franco’s Pizza
  • Hover Networks
  • Kaleida Health Foundation
  • M&T Bank
  • Mintz law firm
  • Oishei Children’s Hospital
  • Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons
  • Stryker 

Additional support was provided by James “Butch” Rosser, MD, professor of surgery and CEO of the Stealth Learning Company, which helped develop the competition.