The operating room can be a stressful setting, especially for surgical residents – surgeons in training following medical school. But an innovative training program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center using lightly embalmed cadavers helps better prepare surgeons and serves as a national model.
“The training allows residents to walk before they run because the lightly embalmed cadavers more realistically mimic an actual surgery,” said Chandra Are, M.B.B.S., surgeon and vice chairman of education in the UNMC Department of Surgery. “Lightly embalmed cadavers are as close to real life as possible and therefore are an invaluable tool for resident training.”
In traditionally embalmed cadavers preserved with formaldehyde, tissues become rigid, organs and structures are difficult to distinguish and normal bleeding that takes place in surgery is not replicated. But tissue of lightly embalmed cadavers is much more like living tissue and provides a better model for learning surgical procedures and techniques.
In the cadaver lab, residents practice as many as 25 to 50 common procedures annually, with increasing difficulty as they advance in skill.
The open surgical skills training program using lightly embalmed cadavers sets the UNMC surgical residency training program apart from programs at other universities, Dr. Are said, and helps recruit top residents to Nebraska.
He said the program also provides a very cost-effective method of teaching surgical skills and anatomy, and surgical residents consistently give the program the highest rating among their training activities.
Dr. Are has expanded the program to include first-year medical students, giving them exposure to surgery earlier in their training. He hopes to expand the program to include more opportunities for interprofessional education through participation by other disciplines, with the program serving as a basis for collaboration in training and research across departments.
He said he plans to use detailed metrics to further assess the program and continue improving it and that he hopes to find additional funding support to move the program to the next level.