Pre-Clinical Surgical Program Gives Students Operating Room Exposure

A new program allows first-year Weill Cornell students the opportunity to gain early exposure to the surgical field by participating in operating room procedures that are proving to be powerful motivators towards surgical careers.

While a few other schools have implemented surgical-exposure programs, PreOp’s rotation-based structure and extensive skills component make it unique among medical colleges, according to co-creator Stefanie Lazow, now a third-year student.

Lazow and fellow third-year Rachael Venn developed PreOp, housed in the Department of Surgery, in their first year and implemented it last fall. The program aims to increase surgical experience for pre-clinical medical students — those in the first two years of medical school, which are classroom-based. Ten participants work with 10 surgical attendings, rotating to a new mentor each month to experience a wide variety of surgical subfields throughout the year.

Within these rotations, students observe surgeries, attend lectures, participate in surgical skills-training sessions, and oftentimes scrub in to assist with surgery — always under the attending’s supervision.

Gaining exposure to surgery early on is important because it can influence a student’s medical future, program leaders say.

“”It can be difficult for medical students to figure out what they’re interested in doing. In addition, surgery has the added complexity of manual dexterity that first- and second-year students don’t necessarily know they have,”” said Dr. Gregory Dakin, associate professor of surgery and PreOp’s faculty advisor. “”PreOp gives students training and experience with those skills, which may go a long way to helping them understand, ‘Maybe I can do this. Maybe this is a career that is appropriate for me.'””

Part of the inspiration for the program came from Venn’s own experience in surgery. She never thought she’d be interested in the field, but when she had the opportunity to scrub in for a C-section before medical school, she found the experience “”truly life-changing”” and fell in love with surgery. However, she was surprised to learn that she wouldn’t return to the operating room until her third year of medical school. As a result, she and Lazow began brainstorming how to provide earlier surgical exposure for future medical students.

First, the duo reached out to Dr. Dakin, medical student clerkship director in the Department of Surgery, who later became the PreOp faculty advisor. With his support, they recruited nine other faculty mentors and secured a $2,500 grant from W. L. Gore & Associates to purchase training supplies, fund research on PreOp, and travel to present their findings at conferences.

It paid off.

“”On multiple occasions, PreOp students have excitedly approached me to share their stories of experiences in the OR,”” Lazow said. “”I have gladly abandoned my studies in the library to hear students’ vivid description of their extensive involvement in a surgery, the exactness of the tumor excision that they were allowed to perform, and the eagerness of the attending to teach them about the intricacies of the surgery. I have felt proud of PreOp for offering these exposures and satisfied that our hard work has at least in these moments achieved our goal.””

The program has had a significant influence on students’ career plans. Only 44 percent of medical students participating to PreOp reported being very likely to apply to surgical residency program at the beginning of the program. After the year in PreOp, that proportion rose to 78 percent. This compares favorably with the experience of a control group of nine first-year Weill Cornell students who had expressed interest in surgery but did not participate in PreOp: Only two of them (22 percent) wanted to apply to surgical residency programs both before and after their first year of medical school.

As part of PreOp, Gary Kocharian was able to help remove the thyroid from a patient with a large tumor. “”This was hands down one of the most exciting experiences of my life,”” said Kocharian, who is now a second-year student.

Read the original story on the Weill Cornell Medical College page.