R22m Wits surgical lab uses IT in versatile environment

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The University of the Witwatersrand has officially opened its R22 million Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab, which the education institution says is equipped with the latest technologies to train surgeons in SA.

According to a statement, the lab, which officially opened yesterday, is located in the Faculty of Health Sciences building in Parktown and is designed in line with international best standards.

It is equipped with the latest technologies and teaching facilities, aimed at putting the Wits surgical training programme on par with the best in the world, it says.

It includes audio-visual and video-conferencing facilities, laparoscopic surgery equipment, telepresence surgery equipment, robotics and tele-education tools.

There is a critical shortage of expert medical specialists in the country, including surgeons. SA has been losing surgical experts to the competitive overseas market due to the lack of sufficient highly-specialised facilities, infrastructure and advanced academic training programmes.

It is estimated there is a need to double the current number of surgeons to fully meet the country’s needs, notes Wits.

“Access to safe, high-quality surgery care remains an ongoing challenge in SA and beyond,” says professor Martin Smith, surgery head of department in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University.

“Modern day approaches to training require that we must address both the technical competency and non-technical skills of the surgeon. This must be achieved in a standardised and measurable way. To do so has meant that we, as the trainers of the next generation of practitioners, must embrace new technologies and training opportunities.

“This multidisciplinary unit offers the most modern information technology in a versatile environment. It uses the latest skills training methodologies to ensure that when these surgeons and others provide care to patients, their advanced skills are appropriate and safe, ensuring the best outcomes for the patients and communities.”

The lab further offers an opportunity to engage in research of new technologies and training methods, he adds.

In the digital economy, the use of technology in medical education is becoming increasingly important in facilitating basic knowledge acquisition, and helping students practise for rare or critical events anticipated in the working environment.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality are expected to become essential components of the future of medical education.

According to Wits, the advanced surgical skills laboratory will cater for the inter-disciplinary training needs of surgical disciplines such as general surgery; orthopaedics; gynaecology; ear, nose and throat; cardiothoracic; urology; maxillofacial; ophthalmologic; neuro; and plastic surgery. It will also include the training of specialists, and qualified doctors, nurses and other allied health practitioners.

It has a large ‘wet lab’ with eight stations, laparoscopic towers and endoscopy (upper endoscopy and colonoscopy), the availability of facilities for training on cadavers, lead-lined walls to accommodate imaging, and a new lecture room for 35 participants.

The lab forms part of the Wits 100 Centenary Campaign project, to mark 100 years of academic and research excellence, and the advancement of the public good in 2022.

“Wits trains more doctors, surgeons, specialists and sub-specialists than any other university in Southern Africa,” comments professor Damon Bizos, head of Wits Surgical Gastroenterology, and clinical head of surgery at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre.

“The new R22 million Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab will help to enhance the training of surgeons, across disciplines, in a state-of-the-art environment, with the best equipment available.

“We need to replenish these specialised skills and replicate them in adequate measure in order to deliver essential services to South Africans and Africans.”

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