Education News Stories

Bringing WISE Home: Adapting Laparoscopic Technical Skills Training to the COVID-19 Era

The Washington University Institute for Surgical Education (WISE) Center plays an important role in the Department of Surgery’s Residency Programs. Surgical residents in the General Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Urology, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery Programs have access to a robust simulation and technical skills training component at the WISE Center.

This training typically includes multiple in-person skills labs throughout the year.

In response to COVID-19, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis implemented strict social distancing guidelines. In-person programs at the WISE Center were put on hold to follow institutional guidelines and protect the health and safety of faculty and residents.

Despite closing the WISE Center’s labs, surgical training at the School of Medicine carries on. WISE offers a “mobile skills lab,” enabling residents to use training equipment for both open and laparoscopic skills from home. Expert faculty provide coaching for residents through video conferencing, ensuring the continued quality of training expected of a world-class, American College of Surgeons (ACS) Level-1 Accredited Educational Institute (AEI).

“Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Simulation has become such an integral part of our trainees’ education,” says Michael Awad, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of WISE. “The COVID-19 pandemic stimulated us to come up with creative approaches to continue our skills training given the current restrictions. The ‘virtual WISE’ program has worked better than expected. In fact, certain unexpected advantages came to light. The ease by which we can record these sessions has been extremely useful for trainee review and feedback.”

This training began with a trial run involving current General Surgery Resident Frank Olumba, MD.

“It was encouraging to see that so many faculty were willing to remote train with residents to help maintain and improve our skills,” Olumba says. “It was an honor and incredible value to have guided practice with an attending like Dr. Awad. You can only get so far practicing on your own, but an experienced coach can point out mistakes you aren’t even aware of to guide your continued individual practice.”

Seeing the value of this initial trial, WISE has moved forward with virtual training for incoming surgrical residents.

“After a successful trial to develop best practices for this coaching model,” Eileen Smith, MD, says, “we look forward to offering these virtual coaching sessions to our incoming intern class.”

Smith, a current resident in the General Surgery Program, is completing the first of two years as an ACS-AEI research fellow with the WISE Center. Smith completed medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX prior to becoming a resident at Washington University. She plans to pursue a specialization in either minimally invasive or acute care general surgery.

The remote training has already begun. With a new year of interns beginning their residency amid coronavirus, WISE is applying their new mobile skills training to give residents practice with Ethicon trainers.