LANCASTER — Gabrielle Burkard, a junior at St. Mary's High School, had the opportunity to participate in the Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge over the summer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The challenge introduced participants to various career opportunities within health care using hands-on, practical exercises and classroom instruction as well as guest lectures from accomplished professionals.
According to Burkard, weekdays were spent mostly in the classroom, where they learned about advancements made in medical instruments, as well as different parts of the robot they would be using. They also had field trips to various medical-related facilities, like the Brain Museum at the State University of New York at Buffalo, but she said the experiences on Saturdays were what she will remember most.
"On Saturdays, we actually got to practice on the daVinci Surgical Robot," she related. "It was amazing to think that what I was doing is what doctors do all of the time. It was cool how smooth everything was."
As smoothly as things went, Burkard said she did find the final challenge to be rather daunting. Students had to memorize the names of several different tools, there was a test on medical practices of the past, present and future, and they were required to tie a total of three different knots (both surgical and regular) using the robot.
"Overall, I thought the challenge was a great experience," Burkard continued. "My sister, Paige, did it last year, so I was iffy about going this year, but I absolutely loved it. I never thought about surgical medicine before as a career, but now I will definitely be looking into it. I would highly recommend the challenge to other students."
Robot-assisted surgeries are minimally invasive surgical procedures, carried out with assistance from a highly specialized surgical robot under the control and oversight of an experienced surgeon. Compared to traditional "open" surgeries, these procedures typically involve smaller incisions, less blood loss, and quicker recovery time. At Roswell Park, robot-assisted procedures are used in treatment of urologic, gastrointestinal, head-and-neck, thoracic and gynecologic cancers.