Jacobs School medical students Chloe McQuestion (center) and Kristen Kosmerl (left) demonstrate simulated surgery for students.

STEM Event Helps High School Students Learn Surgical Skills

By Bill Bruton

Published May 30, 2023

Inspiring gifted high school students in Buffalo public high schools to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields — and perhaps become future surgeons — was the aim of a UB Drone STEM competition that took place at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building.

Mayor Brown Champions Health Care Careers

“This is your medical school. It sits in your community. Take advantage of it.”
Professor and chair of surgery

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown encouraged those in attendance to think about a future in health care.

“What you are doing is critically important. We need more doctors who are Black and brown. We need more doctors who are female. We need more doctors who are coming from urban communities,” Brown said. “That’s what this program is all about, to expose you to medicine, and to put you on a path to medical careers.”

He even admitted this program could benefit him in the future.

“I am getting older and I am hoping in a few years one of you will be my doctor. I am counting on you to learn everything you can. This program will help you achieve your career dreams, and will help you go on to be successful,” Brown said.

School’s Diversity Highlighted

Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, also highlighted career possibilities in the health care field during the event.

“We are committed to making sure there is a pathway to increase diversity. The way we do that is to get students excited about STEM and all the science that goes into it,” Brashear said. “We hope that many of you will consider a career in medicine. You are going to see how you can do amazing things through robotic surgery.”

She also hopes they stay in Buffalo to do their training and research.

“We want to make sure that everyone sees a place for themselves in medicine and hopefully you see a place for yourself at UB. We have a variety of ways to do that. We have scholarships here, we have pathway programs — one named for our beloved Dr. Jonathan Daniels and his family,” Brashear said. “As the mayor said, there is a deficit of doctors in New York. We need 20 percent more doctors to meet the needs of everybody in our community and nationally. We want to make sure we increase the number of Black and brown students in medical school, and if I have my way, and the mayor has his way, those students will stay here in Western New York and take care of all of us.”

Speakers who offered words of encouragement to the participants were, from left: Byron W. Brown, mayor of Buffalo; Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB's vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School; Steven D. Schwaitzberg, MD, professor and chair of surgery; and James “Butch” Rosser Jr., clinical professor of surgery.

Rosser Touts Simulated Learning

Under the supervision of residents in the Department of Surgery, students used 3D simulators and video games to learn some of the hand-eye coordination and fine muscle movements surgeons rely on when performing operations.

James “Butch” Rosser Jr., MD, an internationally known surgeon and CEO of Stealth Learning Company, which helped develop the competition, served as master of ceremonies.

“I want to thank you all for coming. I can feel the energy. And I’m so proud of you,” said Rosser, a Renaissance man who is also an inventor, author, futurist, video game proponent, social advocate and television personality. “This is real. What our mayor said, is real. What our dean said, is real. There’s a new day. We cannot let the status quo remain. You are what I call brand new to greatness.”

In an account that connects to what Mayor Brown said, Rosser, a 6-foot-4 former Division I football player, went from his playing weight of 285 pounds to 460 pounds some two decades ago.

“I was going to die. And guess what. One of my students — who I had trained — operated on me. And I stand before you today, 6-4, 290 and change,” said Rosser, clinical professor of surgery at the Jacobs School. “I’m still a big unit, but I’m a healthier big unit, and my student saved me.”

He told of the importance of simulated learning, and even of the advantages of video games for surgical students.

“I’ve spent my career finding new educational ways to empower everyone. We have done a study that shows if you do well in drone simulation, you have fewer errors as a surgeon,” said Rosser, who wrote a successful book about how video games can help you succeed. “Super Monkey Ball, that game has the highest correlation to decreasing errors in surgery. These are called asymmetrical training techniques. Then you’re going to go on to the real stuff — training simulation. These are things that surgeons have to do.”

“We’re entertaining you with our surgical training techniques, but we want you to be a pathologist, we want you to be a nurse practitioner, we want you to be anything in medicine that you can be. And we’re here today for you,” Rosser said.

Schwaitzberg: Take Advantage of Jacobs School

Steven D. Schwaitzberg, MD, professor and chair of surgery, extolled the virtues of having a school located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus next to the Fruit Belt, an East Buffalo neighborhood.

“This is your medical school. It sits in your community. Take advantage of it,” Schwaitzberg said.

He also pointed out the importance of teamwork in health care settings.

“As you work today, one of the things I want you to put in the back of your mind is that you are a team. The reason that is important is that health care is done in teams. And every single person contributes as a team. Every point counts. Every member of the team is important,” Schwaitzberg said. “You’ve got an army of medical students and residents here to help you. The surgical skills you’re going to use today are some of the real surgical skills that we put these folks through in order to ultimately become certified by the American Board of Surgery.”

Program Coordinator Sees Value for Students

Kira Mioducki, science program coordinator at Research Laboratory High School, was impressed with the event.

“It’s amazing. It’s completely outside the realm of our students’ traditional views. Not just in the classroom walls of what learning is, but just to see that the medical fields do these sort of things, as well as the robotic surgery,” Mioducki said. “It’s nice that they get to talk with the students, and to understand the connection that they see — like the video games as an entry point — that there are skills that then transfer, and to understand that it’s the same sort of things that the medical students are doing. It gives them an access point. Even in the classroom, we do hands-on things, but I can’t simulate this within our classroom walls.”

A similar event took place at the Jacobs School in 2019. COVID-19 prevented bringing it back before this year.

“Just to be on the campus is great, and this building is amazing,” Mioducki said. “We did this in 2019. One of our seniors was trained, ready to go in 2020, then the world shut down. He was really excited, because he was ready to go, and then we all got cancelled and had to drop out. So, it’s great to be back and do this. We have some freshmen here who are excited about next year.”

Surgery Resident Stresses ‘Paying it Forward’

Joe L’Huillier, MD, a third-year general surgery resident, was one of the leaders of the competition.

“This event is about giving back and inspiring the next generation. When I was coming up in medical school and even before, I had people doing this for me, so it’s about paying it forward,” said L’Huillier, who earned his medical degree and undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin.

“Every week we meet to talk about research and community initiatives. As Dr. Rosser mentioned, right now we’re running a study trying to correlate drone flight performance with laparascopic skill. That’s pretty interesting,” L’Huillier said. “And then we meet to talk about community events like this one. We also just had one up at the SAGES meeting, which was in Canada this year. It was a similar event, but with a hundred students.”

Research Laboratory Finishes in First Place

A select group of 10 students from each of four high schools (Health Sciences Charter School, Leonardo da Vinci High School, Frederick Law Olmstead School and Research Laboratory High School) took part in the event on May 6.

Research Laboratory finished first in the team competition. Health Sciences was second, daVinci was third and Olmstead was fourth.

Top individual finishers were: first, Gabriella Szudzik (daVinci); second, Na’shawn Parchment (daVinci); third, Isabella Mattison (Olmstead); fourth, Tulayha Chowdhury (Olmstead).

Sponsors of the event were:

  • BJ’s
  • Carrabba’s Italian Grill
  • DJ Ruption
  • Issa’s
  • Allpro Parking
  • Paula’s Donuts
  • Stryker
  • Tops Friendly Markets