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KU Neurosurgery faculty and residents host surgery-based event designed to give a unique early peek into neurosurgery specialties

Neurosurgery faculty and residents provided a hands-on look for KU medical students, who rotated through various stations highlighting different neurosurgical procedures.

A group of three doctors and medical students stand and observe while a resident demonstrates a procedure
Medical students don’t often get to learn about surgery specialties early in their careers. Heather Minchew, M.D., walks third-year student Patrick Baki through an external ventricular drain while first-year medical student Pedro Gonzales observes. Photos contributed by Heather Minchew, M.D.

Faculty and residents in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Kansas School of Medicine helped demystify the operating room for first- and second-year medical students during a first-ever neurosurgery-specific program.

Heather Minchew, M.D., a first-year neurosurgery resident at KU Medical Center, applied for and was awarded a $25,000 Medical Alumni Innovative Teaching Fund (MAITF) grant to launch the program, known as a BASE (Building Approachable Surgical Exposure) lab for medical students. BASE is part of the Department of Surgery, and German Berbel, D.O., and Lyndsey Kilgore, M.D., are the faculty primary investigators. The one-time nonrenewable grant, supported by the KU Medical Alumni Association, promotes major innovations in medical student teaching and evaluation by KU School of Medicine faculty.

“Surgery is one of those fields that is tough to get exposure to in a meaningful way as a younger medical student,” said Minchew, who spearheaded the event with Jalee Birney, a second-year KU School of Medicine student.

“The BASE lab was a way to simulate the operating room,” Minchew said. “With a lot of help, we created a high-touch, low-risk curriculum where medical students could ‘try on’ surgery without the stress or intimidation that many feel in the operating room.”

Doctors and medical students stand together while observing a procedure
Each station used cadavers to demonstrate different
neurosurgical procedures. Jeremy Peterson, M.D.,
guides first-year medical student Gabriella Smith.

During the BASE lab, participants rotated through four stations taught by faculty members Tanya Filardi, M.D., Koji Ebersole, M.D., Jeremy Peterson, M.D., and Christopher Miller, M.D, as well as neurosurgery residents. Each station used cadavers to demonstrate different neurosurgical procedures such as drilling burr holes, small holes in the skull that relieve pressure when fluid builds up, and placing Mayfields, which are head holders used in the operating rooms to position patients for cranial surgery. The event also included a lecture to go over the procedures that would be performed during the lab. 

Minchew got the idea for the event after serving as executive director of the Clinical Anatomy Mentorship Program (CAMP) as a fourth-year student at KU School of Medicine. CAMP is an experience all third-year KU School of Medicine students go through before their surgery clerkships. During CAMP, fourth-year students teach the third-year students the basics of operating room etiquette, surgical anatomy and surgical skills such as suturing and knot tying.

Portrait of Heather Michew
A first-year neurosurgery
resident, Minchew 
launched the program
with a grant from the
KU Medical Alumni

Neurosurgery can be an intimidating subspecialty because of the field’s competitiveness, and events like the BASE lab help humanize the subspecialty and provide opportunities for medical students to interact with neurosurgery faculty members. “I hope the lab got students excited about the subspecialty and made them feel like neurosurgery is an attainable goal,” Birney said.

“In our first and second years of medical school, we don't have any surgical exposure,” Birney explained. “Our time is just spent studying behind a screen for 12 hours a day. So, being able to work with cadavers as well as learn the tactile skills to be a surgeon gets me excited about medicine again,” Birney said. “Dr. Minchew started something really amazing, and it has definitely had a huge impact on me, and I am sure on many other students as well.” 

It is anticipated that the Department of General Surgery will continue the neurosurgery-specific lab. Topics of other previous BASE labs and events have included a breast surgery workshop and an orthopedic surgery workshop.

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