June 28, 2012

Surgical resident designs low-cost vascular simulator

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Kevin Sexton, M.D., and his wife, Deb, created this low-cost vascular simulator to help train surgical residents.

Surgical resident designs low-cost vascular simulator

Because arteries are found at various depths throughout the body, vascular surgery has been described as sewing in a hole. So, how do you train surgical residents this skill before they enter the operating room?

It’s a common question asked at medical centers across the country. So, Jeffery Dattilo, M.D., director of the Vascular Surgery Program, and Colleen Brophy, M.D., professor of Surgery, challenged a General Surgery resident to come up with an answer.

Kevin Sexton, M.D.

Kevin Sexton, M.D.

In one weekend and a trip to the hardware store, Kevin Sexton, M.D., and his wife, Deb, who worked in simulation centers while in nursing school, designed a $5 vascular simulator.

A far cry from the cost of actual simulators that can run into the thousands of dollars, Sexton’s inexpensive simulator is now enabling residents to easily and effectively practice intricate vascular surgical techniques and vessel repair.

Using nothing more than copper tubing, plastic bird guards often used to block dryer vents, a drain and some miscellaneous items such as wood screws and two-by-fours, Sexton produced 18 vascular simulators for a residency workshop.

In the first two-hour workshop, 24 first-year surgery residents practiced multiple vascular techniques at various anatomically challenging positions.

The residents were then asked for their feedback on the simulator. The results were overwhelmingly positive.

All of the respondents indicated they would like to have the simulator for personal use; 67 percent were willing to pay for the device at an average price of $25, and 83 percent reported the simulator improved their confidence that they could one day perform such techniques on patients.

“It’s not uncommon to come up with non-traditional solutions to medical training. Residents do this all the time. I practiced vascular anastomoses in a coffee can because that is what my chief resident said worked,” said Sexton. “What makes our design useful is we can share it with other residents and institutions who want cost-effective simulation. That’s the win,” he said.

Sexton presented his design in March in San Diego at Surgery Education Week, a meeting of the Association of Program Directors in Surgery and the Association for Surgical Education. His paper, co-authored by Dattilo and Brophy, was entitled, “Need cost effective surgical simulation? Send a resident to the hardware store.”

Surgery Education Week is designed to provide a forum for those involved in surgical education to seek new approaches and creative solutions to issues in medical education.

“Low-tech and inexpensive partial task trainers are of great value to both new learners as well as skills champions,” said John L. Tarpley, M.D., program director of General Surgery Residency. “We are surrounded here at Vanderbilt by incredibly bright residents such as Kevin Sexton, and are most fortunate to also benefit from Deb’s experience and input.”