Surgical Skills Centre

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To meet the increasing demand for expert surgical training and education, the University of Toronto’s Surgical Skills Centre is primed to undergo a major expansion doubling its size and increasing its capabilities to train medical students and surgeons.

The state-of-the-art educational facility, housed at Mount Sinai Hospital, has enjoyed tremendous success since opening in 1998, experiencing exponential growth in the number and types of skills courses offered annually. In 2004, about 4,000 medical students, residents and surgeons of all ages and skill levels from across North America visited the Surgical Skills Centre – more than double the number who used the facility in its inaugural year.

“We’ve been such a success and so many people want to use us, that we’ve outgrown our facility. We’re turning people away and we can’t meet the demand,” said Dr. Helen MacRae, Director of the Surgical Skills Centre who is heading the expansion project.

The Surgical Skills Centre – the only one of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area – provides a laboratory setting where basic and complex surgical procedures can be learned and practised.

In addition, educational research is conducted in skills acquisition and evaluation with the goal of providing answers to fundamental educational issues, and the Centre offers a site for developing and testing new surgical innovations.

The goal for the expansion is to “have more focus on simulation technology, provide better continuing professional development opportunities, and expand what we’re already doing,” said Dr. MacRae, adding construction is expected to begin within the next year.

Video conferencing has also become a major component of the Centre. With this technology, an entire classroom has the opportunity to watch a live surgery on a television while communicating with the surgeon performing the operation.

The University of Toronto skills lab has become a model for other labs, said Dr. MacRae. We have assisted other educational facilities when they are setting up similar Centres, including in Montreal, London, Halifax and Vancouver.

The growth of the Surgical Skills Centre is no surprise to Dr. Richard Reznick, Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto, and one of the founding members of the Centre.

“In the past, surgeons have learned by watching and doing under guidance,” he said. “But surgery is changing rapidly and the ability to do most of the teaching in the operating room is diminishing.”

A strong focus on medical error and patient safety, increasingly specialized procedures and growing fiscal pressures leading to the need for speed and efficiency have all contributed to the rise of the Surgical Skills Centre, said Dr. Reznick. And research data increasingly shows that learning techniques on a simulator are translating into the operating room, he said.

But the emergence of continuing education as a primary audience did come as a surprise, said Dr. Reznick. It quickly became evident that surgeons were wildly interested in developing their skills in a controlled environment and with the advancement of technology over the past decade; the skills lab became the ideal location for such training.

“The Surgical Skills Centre is one of the things that distinguishes our department at the University of Toronto,” said Dr. Reznick. “It’s been an amazing success.”

Like many departments, the urology residents’ program uses the Surgical Skills Centre on an ongoing basis as part of the core curriculum.

“It basically facilitates their training, so when they actually do it, or assist in a case, they’re more familiar with the equipment and they can concentrate on the task at hand,” said Dr. Sid Radomski, associate professor of surgery in urology at the University of Toronto. “I think it enhances our program and our training without a doubt, and it’s good for the patients ultimately because it makes them better surgeons.”