Stress-free training may enhance surgical skill: Study

Washington: Researchers now suggest that the best way to train surgeons is to remove the stress of residency programmes and make surgery a hobby.

The results of the study, conducted by the University of Houston and Methodist Hospital researchers, were reported in Scientific Reports.

According to researchers, under relaxed conditions outside a formal educational setting, 15 first-year medical students, who aspired one day to become surgeons, mastered microsurgical suturing and cutting skills in as little as five hour-long sessions.

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Speaking about it, lead author Ioannis Pavlidis, said, “It appears that by removing external stress factors associated with the notoriously competitive and harsh lifestyle of surgery residencies, stress levels during inanimate surgical training plummet.

He added that in five short sessions the students, approaching surgery for fun or as a hobby, had remarkable progress achieving dexterity levels similar to seasoned surgeons, at least in these drills.

His partners on the project, Anthony Echo and Dmitry Zavlin, surgeons at Houston Methodist Institute for Reconstructive Surgery, gave brief instructions to the students at the beginning of the programme.

Once the students began cutting and suturing at their mobile microsurgical simulators, Pavlidis and team tracked their stress levels by measuring sweat responses near the nose via thermal imaging. The students’ performance in the surgical drills was scored by two experts, based on video recordings.

Previously, Pavlidis and Methodist Hospital researchers had found that surgical residents exhibited high stress levels during their formal training in surgical simulators.

In the present follow-up work, Pavlidis, Echo and Zavlin chose trainees outside the surgical establishment, without pressures and stakes, to examine what happens when environmental stress is neutralised and only stress associated with the challenging nature of the surgical drills is present.

In the study, where young surgery enthusiasts took up surgical training without the impact of environmental anxiety, skills were quickly acquired. Then once a skill like suturing is acquired, it won’t be forgotten, much like riding a bike.

Speaking about it, Echo said, “If you acquire a dexterous skill when you are not super stressed, you will acquire it better and faster, because `fight or flight’ responses are not there to mess things up.”


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