Simulator gives future surgeons practice that’s close to the real thing

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who wants to be a surgeon's first patient? Someone has to be, albeit with supervision from more experienced doctors. Now some future surgeons in the metro are getting practice that's "virtually" the same as the real thing.

Dr. James Barnes played video games as a kid.

"But nothing nearly as hand-eye coordinated as this," said Dr. Barnes.

An arthroscopic surgery simulator is new to Truman Medical Center. It gives surgical residents and medical students the feel, sights and sounds of knee procedures. They can practice everything from grasping loose tissue to snipping and shaving the meniscus when it's torn.

"This gives the residents the opportunity to practice that over and over again before they actually do it on a real person," said Dr. James Bogener, the manager of the surgery skills lab.

Complications can even pop up.

"I can cause the knee to bleed or have a bad view," said Dr. Bogener.

Dr. Barnes, a fourth-year resident, has already done dozens of knee procedures. But he likes the simulator because it scores his performance and shows him where he grazed healthy tissue.

Truman's simulator is one of only 50 like it in the world. It can also be used for shoulder surgery training.

Dr. Bogener says there's good evidence that skills improve with practice on the simulator, but there isn't proof yet that it translates to the operating room. He says Truman hopes to study whether this training does improve outcomes for patients.

The simulator cost $188,000. Truman purchased it with a grant from the Hall Family Foundation.