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Preparing Surgeons for the OR

Thinking outside of the box pays off. The European Surgical Institute of Johnson & Johnson Medical learns from pilots how to better train doctors and make operations safer for patients.


Regularly sitting in a virtual cockpit and landing at international airports without ever taking off is nothing new for pilots. Actual time spent in the air is always preceded by simulation training, as practicing without risking the lives of passengers has proven its worth. 

This success model found its way into the field of medicine several years ago and more and more surgeons are conducting virtual operations with 3D models on the computer or a console. The European Surgical Institute (ESI) of Johnson & Johnson’s Medical division is a pioneer in this technology. Every year, thousands of doctors are trained there in minimally invasive surgery (MIS) based on much smaller incisions.


The virtual OR table
More than just theory, this technology has been supported by 3D computer simulators for a decade. Doctors can practice the same movements as in the OR and follow the process on the screen in real time. The program focuses on topics ranging from sewing and knotting techniques to complete MIS operations such as gastrectomy, appendix removal and gall bladder procedures, as well as dealing with complications based on actual cases. “Training with simulators offers numerous benefits,” explains Dr. George Alevizopoulos, Director of the ESI. “You can practice as much as you like. It improves the surgeon’s coordination between the hand and eye, and helps to standardize surgery steps and set training standards. And most importantly, it lowers the error rate of surgical procedures, thus increasing patient safety.”


Thinking ahead
Virtual training courses are only available to medical professionals. For more than 20 years, the ESI in Norderstedt near Hamburg has been a key driving force in the industry. This group of experts has again been inspired by pilots and top athletes, who now rely on the learning methods of mental training more than ever before. In addition to realistic simulations, they mentally break down their actions into a series of steps. If the transitions between each step can be carefully considered in advance, they can be carried out more seamlessly in stressful situations, thus reducing the risk of error. The ESI experts have applied this concept to medicine. They have worked with experienced surgeons to develop surgery instruction manuals, which allow doctors to optimally prepare for each step of the next procedure with a mental simulation, thus increasing patient safety.


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In brief

Established in 1991, the European Surgical Institute (ESI) in Norderstedt offers medical training and was one of the world’s first training centers to specialize in minimally invasive surgery technology. ESI also offers training courses to cardiologists, radiologists, orthopedists, neurologists and other doctors, and the courses are certified by the Medical Chamber of Schleswig-Holstein. With an auditorium, ten additional conference rooms and an atrium, the institute is also an event location for the MICE industry.