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Brain Imaging Can Suggest Readiness of Surgical Trainees

Medical students trained on a simulator had higher levels of activation in motor areas of the brain.

Mary Bates, Contributor
Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Image courtesy of Arun Nemani


Surgeons often train on simulation platforms before they perform operations on actual patients. But how does one objectively determine if a trainee has achieved the necessary motor skills and is able to transfer them from the simulator to the operating room?

In a new study presented last month at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2017, researchers used noninvasive brain imaging to evaluate motor cortex activity in surgical trainees.

The researchers compared medical students who practiced on physical or virtual simulators with those who had no practice. They found that simulator-trained students had higher activity levels in the motor areas of their brains, successfully transferred those skills to operating on cadavers, and were faster than those who had no simulator training.

The researchers say this is the first study to show clear functional changes in the brain that transfer into surgical skill in individuals trained with simulators. They hope to use these findings to help quantify motor skills in surgical trainees, and suggest that in the future, patterns of functional brain activation may be used to identify and certify successful trainees.

This study also highlights the value of simulation by objectively demonstrating functional changes in brain activity as surgical trainees learn new motor skills.