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BIDMC Takes the Lead in Training Surgeons of the Future

First-in-New England course focuses on robotics

BOSTON -- Even the forward-thinking Leonardo da Vinci, who conceived of the first robot, would have had a difficult time imagining the robots used with increasing frequency in today's operating rooms.

With their crab-like arms, these futuristic-looking, $2 million-dollar machines enable surgeons to perform even the most complex and delicate procedures through tiny incisions with a level of vision, precision, dexterity, and control that is unattainable with conventional surgery.

In the hands of well-trained, experienced surgeons, robotic surgery offers significant benefit to patients - among them shorter hospital stays, less blood loss, less pain, and faster recovery. Other benefits include improved 3-D visualization and dexterity during certain delicate procedures like prostate removal (prostatectomy) for cancer.

For these and other reasons, it is hardly surprising that growing numbers of patients are actively "shopping" around for doctors who perform robotic surgery. In fact, the percentage of patients undergoing robot-assisted prostatectomy is now about 80 percent nationwide - and growing.

First-ever course in New England
As the demand for robot-assisted surgery increases so, too, does the need for programs to train surgical residents and fellows, who must learn and master an entirely new set of skills before they are ready to safely treat patients. Yet there are just a small handful of courses in the nation that offer them and, until very recently, none was in the Northeast.

As one of the busiest, most experienced, and comprehensive robotic surgery programs in the nation, the Division of Urology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is taking the lead in training surgeons of the future. During the first weekend in May, BIDMC offered the first-ever training course in robotic surgery in New England.

Led by urologists Andrew A. Wagner, MD, the course director, and Martin Sanda, MD, the co-director, the free, two-day course attracted residents, fellows, and attending surgeons from throughout New England and beyond.

"We're regarded as a national leader in robotic urologic surgery and, as such, have a strong commitment to training surgeons of the future - a future that increasingly requires hands-on training in robotic surgery," says Wagner, who is Director of Minimally Invasive Urologic Surgery at BIDMC.

Hands-on training
Taught by faculty from Harvard and Lahey Clinic, the course included lectures on robotic approaches to kidney, prostate, and bladder surgery, as well as hands-on sessions using four state-of-the-art, dual-console robotic systems loaned to the medical center by the manufacturer. Six simulation computers were also available.

During the hands-on sessions, attendees were able to practice and receive performance feedback on a variety of tasks aimed at improving their robotic skills, and gain confidence in procedure-specific robotic skills using a unique simulated tissue prostatectomy model. They also were taught practical tasks, such as how to set up patients in a robotic room, as well as troubleshoot the equipment.

The New England Urology Resident Training Course in Robotic Surgery will be offered again next year. For information and more photos from the course, visit: and click on Urology.