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Medical students create hands-on surgical skills program

SSTEP Program
Student Richard Di Len, left, with Dean Richard Reznick at a surgical skills program made possible through the Medical School Excellence Fund, a fund created through donations from alumni and friends.

Second year Queen’s medical students had a special opportunity during their first two weeks of summer break to practice their surgical skills.

A year in the making, the Surgical Skills and Technology Elective Program (SSTEP) was an idea proposed by second-year medical students Jennifer Siu and Stefania Spano to give students the opportunity to build and reinforce foundational knowledge and skills, in a supervised environment. Through their leadership, SSTEP brought together 24 second-year students and more than 27 faculty members and resident facilitators for two weeks of hands-on learning and surgical skill building.

In order to create the curriculum for SSTEP, Ms. Siu and Ms. Spano used the First Year Surgical Residency Bootcamp as a guideline, and built a program that gradually took students from basic skills like knot tying and suturing on to more complex procedures using a variety of materials.

“Our goal was to give students more time and supervision to practice their procedural skills in a simulated environment and in doing so, to help increase their overall understanding, competence, and confidence when they are asked to assist, observe, or perform similar procedures on patients,” said Ms. Siu.

Each day of the program honed in on skills used within a specific medical specialty, exposing students to procedures from general surgery, orthopedics, otolaryngology, obstetrics and gynecology, plastic surgery, anesthesiology, family medicine, and urology. Physicians from each specialty and nurses from Kingston General Hospital acted as teachers and facilitators.

“It was important for us to create a non-threatening academic environment where students could receive one-on-one guidance from faculty or residents in their area of expertise,” said Ms. Spano.

The program was hosted at the Medical School’s Clinical Simulation Centre, allowing the students to take advantage of the state-of-the-art surgical simulation facility simulated environment provided there.

SSTEP was realized with the support of an interdisciplinary team, spanning the Faculty of Health Sciences, with help from Dean Richard Reznick himself.

“We came up with the idea in April 2013, then proposed it to Dr. Reznick in October 2013,”Ms. Spano says. “He was enthusiastic about the idea and helped set us up with the appropriate partnerships”.

An important element of this partnership was that it was supported financially by the Medical School Excellence Fund, which is resourced by donations from alumni and friends. The fund, which was created in 2009, supports a variety of initiatives including educational technology, simulation, clinical learning, innovative research and student-led initiatives, and in this case, provided essential funding to bring SSTEP to fruition.

With the project given the go-ahead, Ms. Siu and Ms. Spano recruited two fellow students, Daniel You and Riaz Karmali, to their organizing committee.

“This initiative was entirely organized by our students and reflects their great passion and enthusiasm for self-directed education. We strive to offer opportunities like this to our students here at Queen’s; this facilitates the development of physicians who can demonstrate a broad array of competencies, including skills in advocacy, management and leadership,” remarked Dr. Reznick.

After a jam-packed two weeks of learning, the SSTEP leaders were pleased to find that the feedback was all positive, amongst facilitators and the students themselves.

“Learning alongside 23 of my future colleagues and friends was what made the program such a great experience for me,” one student commented. “The enthusiasm each student brought to listening and learning from the facilitators made it an experience I will never forget.”

One goal of Queen’s Initiative Campaign is to raise funds to enhance many aspects of the student learning experience, including opportunities to learn in different ways through experiential learning such as the SSTEP Program.

The Initiative Campaign is the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the university’s history. The goal is to raise half a billion dollars to ensure Queen’s future as a destination for exceptional people. In addition to enhancing the student learning experience, the campaign will nurture a supportive campus community, and secure a global reputation in discovery and inquiry.