Using cell phones in the classroom to simulate surgery

FLINT -- (06/14/2017) -- You use your phone to connect with friends, play games, and search the internet. But a local professor is using it for so much more.

Dr. Patrick Atkinson, Ph.D., a Bio-Engineering Professor at Kettering University, is turning cell phones into a tool to teach students modern-day surgery. It's useful for their time at school and beyond.

"We're the only school we're familiar with in the country that intensively uses hands-on techniques to teach what it's like to be a surgeon," said Atkinson.

Bio-engineering students at Kettering University are spending time performing practice surgeries, even if they don't want to attend medical school.

"It's bio-engineers who design the surgical tools, and how can you know how to design surgical tools for someone else unless you walk a mile in those person's shoes," said Atkinson. "So they try on being a doctor even though they have no interest in being a doctor, because they want to know what it's like to create new technology for physicians to help patients."

The cell phone simulates how surgery is done now-a-days.

"The old way of doing surgery was to make a big incision, open up a person, and look directly at the anatomy," Atkinson said. "That's not how it's done in modern-day operating rooms. Instead we make very small incisions and insert a camera into the body, which gives the surgeons their eyes."

The students use everyday objects - "we had a balloon with some water filled in it, simulating a gallbladder, and we had to clamp the gallbladder and remove it," said Jennifer Merriman, a senior at Kettering, and even food to practice - "putting a hot dog into a closed box and then only having certain holes that you can use to perform the surgery. And having the camera, the cell phone, on top, and doing the surgery through that lens instead of actually seeing the hot dog."

Plus it not only helps students with their hand-eye coordination, but is remarkably similar to real-life surgery.

"We've actually brought surgeons in from local operating rooms to take a look at this, and they're amazed number 1 - at how realistic it is, and number 2 - how good some of these kids are," said Atkinson. "What we learn from this exercise is that some of these kids could be surgeons! And some of these kids should not be surgeons!"

It's already changed the majors of some students. "I used to be a regular mechanical engineer and like the auto industry, but coming in here it's really changed my view on what I want to do to biomedical engineering and then eventually go to medical school and become a surgeon," said Justin Heiden, a Kettering senior.

And prepares the students for the future. "Understanding exactly where everything is coming from and how surgeons really have to use that different perspective really helps me for what I'm doing and helps me to really start pursuing my studies and understand what I'm faced with after graduation," said Merriman.

The other really neat thing about using their cell phone? The students can easily flip to video, record themselves doing surgery, and then take that to a job interview to show a future employer.

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