Postgraduate teaching and learning at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) has entered a new frontier. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), obstetricians in training can now step into a revolutionary space, power up a machine and practice surgical techniques crucial for their training. And although trainees will be nowhere near a theatre setting or a patient in need of surgery, built-in simulation creates the illusion that they’re operating in real time, adding to its uniqueness.
The cutting-edge Simulation Suite (SimSuite) allows trainees to practise and refine fundamental surgery techniques from behind a monitor and will usher in a new dawn for women’s health. The space is located in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Groote Schuur Hospital and has raised the bar for teaching and learning, and research in the field in South Africa and on the continent.
The SimSuite is the brainchild of UCT’s Dr Lamees Ras, a senior specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and was officially launched during a special cutting-of-the-ribbon ceremony on Friday, 15 September. Attendees included Glaudina Loots, the director of health innovation in the national Department of Science and Technology; Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, the dean of the FHS; and Professor Mushi Matjila, the head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
“This has been a very long, challenging, although now, a rewarding journey with lots of obstacles in the way.”
“This has been a very long, challenging, although now, rewarding journey with lots of obstacles in the way … [But in the end], what we’ve developed is a futuristic, collaborative space that speaks directly to women’s health,” Dr Ras said.
State-of the-art technology
Currently, the SimSuite is home to the laparoscopic simulator (LapSim) – a sophisticated, revolutionary piece of equipment designed to include integrated AI mentor software and data analytic capabilities. This is particularly useful because it allows trainees to track their laparoscopic skills progress and can also be used as an assessment tool, as well as for research purposes.
But the SimSuite is not restricted to obstetrics and gynaecology postgraduates only. In fact, it’s set to develop and accelerate clinical and surgical training and practice in the faculty more broadly. The goal, Ras explained, is to create a future-orientated, innovative space that boasts state-of-the-art technology, including a range of different simulators that can be used for various surgical and medical procedures.
Ras said the space has been designed specifically to facilitate trainee development in the African context, and the plan is to allow postgraduates and specialist trainees in other surgical disciplines within the faculty to make use of the machine as well. This, she added, will fast track continuous career development and enable cross collaboration across a multitude of specialist fields in medicine.
The flip side of innovation
While offering her congratulatory message to the department, the faculty and the university, Loots reminded the audience that the flip side of a revolutionary space like the SimSuite is human interaction, and she encouraged trainers and trainees not to lose sight of that.
She told surgeons and clinicians to keep in mind that hospital visits are seldom pleasant for patients and reminded them that they have an enormous role to play in ensuring that their patients are comfortable, at ease and well taken care of. She urged them to use the SimSuite launch as a moment of reflection on how best to leverage the power of technology while not losing sight of patients’ emotional and psychological needs during face-to-face interaction. And by adopting a more compassionate approach to the way they practice medicine, Loots said patients would start to feel valued and that their physical, psychological and emotional needs mattered.
“We need to combine simulation with the human component. How do we train students to be resilient and not to see [a patient] as [just] another patient? And what can we do to prepare students to use technology like this [the SimSuite] and combine it with a human-centric approach?” Loots asked.
Creating a future-orientated university
Speaking on behalf of UCT’s University of the Future (UoF) Project, Professor Salome Maswime, the chairperson of the steering committee, congratulated the department on developing the state-of-the-art space. Professor Maswime said the suite aligns well with the UoF project’s vision, which is to create an enabling teaching and learning environment where students and staff can thrive. UCT’s UoF initiative is aimed at creating a vibrant and modern campus, designed to attract talent, foster community engagement and support UCT’s vision for a fair and just society. The project will also provide a strategic roadmap to help the institution attain its goals.
“It becomes a centre of excellence [where] others can learn and experience.”
She said simulation demonstrates the future of teaching and learning in surgery and offers patient safety, and affirms their right to dignity. This approach, Maswime added, matches the UoF’s mandate, which advocates for a UCT of the future that places innovation, creativity, cutting-edge infrastructure, and inter- and multi-disciplinary teaching and learning and collaboration high on the list.
“As you’ve said, this is not just for the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department, but other departments can also come here and learn. So, it becomes a centre of excellence [where] others can learn and experience things,” Maswime said. “We [the UoF project] see, we note, and we record [the SimSuite] as a case study for the UoF project. And we encourage the rest of the university to bring projects and innovations like this that align with infrastructure we can use for [the future of] teaching and learning.”
Others who contributed their viewpoints on the day include Associate Professor Green-Thompson; Professor Matjila; Professor Collet Dandara, the deputy dean for postgraduate education in the FHS; and Dr Sadia Murray, the medical manager at Groote Schuur Hospital.
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