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Board of Visitors grant to give PT students up-close surgical experience

by Luanne Williams

Across the nation, nonessential medical procedures have been postponed while the healthcare system deals with COVID-19.

Karen Friel

As a result, Karen Friel, director of Wingate’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, knows it will be a while before her students get a firsthand look at surgery, but she believes the experience will be worth the wait.

George Schuppin

Friel and associate professor George Schuppin received a grant early this year from the University’s Board of Visitors that will give students a firsthand look at rotator cuff repair, knee and hip replacements, ACL repair, carpal tunnel release, thoracotomy and even open-heart surgery. The procedures will be performed on a cadaver in the University’s anatomy lab by surgeons wearing GoPro cameras and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with future physical therapists.

“The plan is that our first-year students who would have just completed their anatomy course will function as operating room assistants, rather than just watching,” Friel explains. “This will allow them to pose real-time questions to the surgeon about the anatomy, anatomical relationships and the surgical technique performed.”

She says surgeons from Novant’s departments of orthopedic and cardiothoracic surgery have volunteered their time and expertise, and medical-supply vendors have agreed to provide prosthetic implants for the joint replacements and cardiac valves. The $7,100 BOV grant will pay for a human cadaver, camera equipment and surgical supplies such as gowns, gloves, masks, sutures, scalpels, retractors, cardiac sizers, hemostats and needle drivers.

Friel admits that the operations won’t precisely mirror those performed on live patients but says they will greatly enhance students’ understanding.

“Even though we won’t have the need for clamps for blood flow, the muscular, skin, nervous and joint tissues will all feel extremely similar to what is felt in the living,” she says. “And obviously the layers of tissue to go through to access the surgical site will be the same.”

Friel says the students will get to see relationships between structures and the actual trauma that occurs to tissue during the surgical events. That in turn will help to inform the rehab the students provide and give them a better appreciation for the stages of tissue healing they must be aware of during the rehab process.

The procedures will be videotaped so that future students can watch the surgeries. Friel also plans to share the videos with other health science programs across campus.

Friel says the use of cadaveric surgery will put another feather in the cap of Wingate’s 6-year-old DPT program, which has already proven itself, with 100 percent of last year’s graduates passing their licensure exam on the first try.

“Having exposure to the various surgeries prepares our students in a way that other programs cannot and highlights the value of Wingate’s investment in our anatomy program,” she says. “Most programs do not have a dedicated anatomy dissection lab, and others do only virtual dissections without the benefit of feeling tissues in situ.”

Friel says the surgery will supplement the cadaver lab, which is already an important component of the program’s overall educational plan.

“We are also able to offer practicing clinicians time in the lab to refresh their anatomy knowledge,” she says. “This type of community partnership is a hallmark of our program.” 

The grant Friel and Schuppin received is one of 11 awarded by the Board of Visitors in early February. The cadaveric surgeries will be scheduled as soon as the COVID-19 crisis abates and surgeons are able to catch up on the backlog of operations that were postponed during the pandemic.

April 22, 2020

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