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Global Health, Medical Education, Surgery

Bringing surgical training to female medical students in Zimbabwe

Bringing surgical training to female medical students in Zimbabwe

IMG_1468Earlier this summer, I shared the story of how two pioneering women are challenging the status quo in Zimbabwe by saying it’s okay for women take up careers in surgery. Now, this professor-student duo – Stanford surgeon Sherry Wren, MD, and surgeon-in-training Annete Bonigwe Moyo – have launched the first surgical skills training for female medical students at the University of Zimbabwe’s College of Health Sciences.

For a girl growing up in Zimbabwe like Moyo, expressing interest in surgery can be met with ridicule and doubt. But when Moyo met Wren two years ago, Moyo was inspired to change this perception.

She founded DREAM (Dedicated to Reach, Empower And Mentor women in surgery) to empower her female peers and increase participation in the profession. Wren has been a core advisor since the organization’s inception, helping to achieve their mission by providing mentorship and new educational opportunities for the women of DREAM.

“Surgery is a core subject in our medical undergraduate curriculum requiring the acquisition of cognitive diagnostic demands, as well as procedural skills,” Moyo, a senior medical student at the University of Zimbabwe, told me. “However, in spite of the advent of skills laboratories and simulators, undergraduate trainees are barely exposed to the procedural aspect of training. For many graduating medical students in these circumstances, surgery is a far-off thought, and few have the confidence to carry out basic surgical procedures as they go through their internship.”

IMG_1473In an effort to help medical students translate the knowledge gained in the classroom to the operating table, Wren recently facilitated a basic surgical skills training session hosted by DREAM – a first for medical students in Zimbabwe. The training was attended by 21 third, fourth and fifth year MBChB students – all of them women.

Moyo reported to me:

[Wren] began the session by helping the women appreciate standard operating room etiquette and protocol, sterile procedures, sharps and fluid safety, scrubbing, gowning and gloving. For most of the students present, this was the first time they were being walked through these important basic principles of surgery.

Excitement grew as [Wren] began teaching the women some basic surgical sutures on sterile towels… Soon the ladies were ready to apply their newly learned skills on loops of bowel procured to give a more real feel to the exercise. It was amazing to see how quickly what was initially a barely discernible pattern of uneven sutures transformed into neat even sutures…

By the end of the 3-hour session, the timid girl who was clueless as to how to handle the most basic of surgical instruments, or let alone tie a surgical knot, had become a confident future surgeon raring to do whatever it took to realize her dream.

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Cancer, Chronic Disease, Dermatology, Stanford News, Surgery, Transplants

Rebuilding Cassie’s smile: A lung transplant patient’s struggle with skin cancer

lung patientWhen I first met Cassie Stockton, she was seated in an exam chair in Stanford’s dermatology clinic, getting cosmetic skin treatments. Lovely and young, just 21 years old, it seemed a bit silly. How could she possibly need injectable lip fillers or laser skin treatments?

I knew Stockton had a lung transplant at 15 and that the immunosuppressant drugs she was required to take to keep her body from rejecting the donated lungs had made her susceptible to skin cancer. But it wasn’t until I researched her story in depth that I truly understood how she ended up needing regular cosmetic treatments here.

As I explain in my recently published Stanford Medicine article, her story began at birth:

Born premature, [Cassie] was intubated the first two weeks of life, then sent home with her mother and an oxygen tank. She remained on oxygen 24 hours a day for the first two years of her life. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disorder …

Sixteen years later, the donated gift of new lungs saved her life – but it left scars, both emotional and physical:

The day Stockton woke up out of the anesthesia six years ago after a 13-hour surgery at the Transplant Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, she breathed in oxygen with newly transplanted lungs, and breathed out sobs. Tears streamed down her face. “At first, I thought she was in pain,” says her mother, Jennifer Scott, who stood by her side. But that wasn’t it. Stockton was overwhelmingly sad because she now knew her new lungs were the gift of a child. It was Dec. 6, 2009, just before Christmas. The death of someone else’s child had given her a whole new life.

And now:

Every four months, she and her fiancé make the four-hour drive from their home in Bakersfield, California, past the oil rigs and cattle farms to Stanford’s Redwood City-based dermatology clinic for her skin cancer screening. It’s been two years of treatments: freezings, laserings, a total of eight outpatient skin surgeries — the most significant resulting in the removal of the left half of her lower lip. The dermatologic surgeon removes the skin cancers, and then gets to work to repair the damage. “It’s heart-breaking to have to remove the lip of a 21-year-old woman,” says Tyler Hollmig, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology and director of the Stanford Laser and Aesthetic Dermatology Clinic, who leads Stockton’s treatment and keeps her looking like the young woman she is, restoring her skin, rebuilding her lip, making sure she keeps her smile.

Stockton doesn’t complain about any of the struggles she’s had post transplant. She knows she got a second chance at life. And, she tells me, it’s her job to take care of the lungs given to her by that child who died.

Previously: This summer’s Stanford Medicine magazine shows some skin
Photo by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

Dermatology, Evolution, Pediatrics, Research, Science, Stanford News, Surgery

To boldly go into a scar-free future: Stanford researchers tackle wound healing

To boldly go into a scar-free future: Stanford researchers tackle wound healing

scarshipAs I’ve written about here before, Stanford scientists Michael Longaker, MD, and Irving Weissman, MD, are eager to find a way to minimize the scarring that arises after surgery or skin trauma. I profiled the work again in the latest issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, which focuses on all aspects of skin health.

My story, called “Scarship Enterprise,” discusses how scarring may have evolved to fulfill early humans’ need for speed in a cutthroat world:

“We are the only species that heals with a pathological scar, called a keloid, which can overgrow the site of the original wound,” says Longaker. “Humans are a tight-skinned species, and scarring is a late evolutionary event that probably arose in response to a need, as hunter-gatherers, to heal quickly to avoid infection or detection by predators. We’ve evolved for speedy repair.”

Check out the piece if you’re interested in reading more about this or learning how scarring happens, or why, prior to the third trimester, fetuses heal flawlessly after surgery. (Surprisingly, at least to me, many animals also heal without scarring!)

Previously: This summer’s Stanford Medicine magazine shows some skinWill scars become a thing of the past? Stanford scientists identify cellular culprit, New medicine? A look at advances in wound healing and Stanford-developed device shown to reduce the size of existing scars in clinical trial
Illustration by Matt Bandsuch

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine and Society, Stanford News, Surgery

How two women from different worlds are changing the face of surgery

How two women from different worlds are changing the face of surgery

IMG_1038“I hope you’re not serious about doing something in medicine.”

These words are all too familiar to Annete Bongiwe Moyo, a senior medical student at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences in Harare, Zimbabwe, and a former Stanford visiting scholar. In Zimbabwe, where the proportion of men to women in medical school is roughly 3:1, women are encouraged to take up professions as teachers, artists, caregivers – not doctors. And for a woman thinking about becoming a surgeon, well, she might as well keep dreaming.

Though the odds were stacked against her, Moyo made the decision to become a doctor at a very young age. But it wasn’t until she met Stanford surgeon Sherry Wren, MD, that she started to believe that becoming a surgeon was a realistic goal.

The outlook for women in surgery in Zimbabwe is not terribly unlike that in the U.S. when Wren began her residency at Yale University almost 30 years ago. After receiving her medical degree from Loyola University, Wren became the first woman from the university to specialize in surgery. At that time, only 12 percent of surgical residents were women, and the number of women surgeons in the workforce was far less.

But Wren has never let her womanhood hold her back. In fact, her powerhouse personality, fearlessness and passion for her work are the very traits that define her. She has worked all over the world, applying her skill and resourcefulness to provide the best possible care, often with extremely limited resources in remote locations. In many of these places, Wren is often the first woman surgeon anyone has ever seen.

Shocked too was Moyo when Wren appeared on her surgery rotation at the University of Zimbabwe two years ago. Here’s how Moyo recalls their first encounter – one that would have a lasting impact:

[Wren] was a visiting professor in a grand rounds. Medical students are not usually invited to grand rounds, but that day, we were permitted to attend. When the presentation was done, she asked a question, and when she looked my way, she could tell I knew the answer. She called on me, but one of my professors said ‘Wait, she’s a third year student, she may not know what you’re talking about.’ But Prof. Wren insisted, and I answered correctly. So she asked another question, and I got it right. And then another, and I got it right again.

The mood had shifted in the room. No one expected a junior female medical student could be capable of such an eloquent response. No one had ever given her the chance.

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Neuroscience, Stanford News, Surgery, Technology

Stanford researchers provide insights into how human neurons control muscle movement

Stanford researchers provide insights into how human neurons control muscle movement

Brain-Controlled_Prosthetic_Arm_2A few years ago, a team led by Stanford researcher Krishna Shenoy, PhD, published a paper that proposed a new theory for how neurons in the brain controlled the movement of muscles: Rather than sending out signals with parceled bits of information about the direction and size of movement, Shenoy’s team found that groups of neurons fired in rhythmic patterns to get muscles to act.

That research, done in 2012, was in animals. Now, Shenoy and Stanford neurosurgeon Jamie Henderson, MD, have followed up on that work to demonstrate that human neurons function in the same way, in what the researchers call a dynamical system. The work is described in a paper published in the scientific journal eLife today. In our news release on the study, the lead author, postdoctoral scholar Chethan Pandarinath, PhD, said of the work:

The earlier research with animals showed that many of the firing patterns that seem so confusing when we look at individual neurons become clear when we look at large groups of neurons together as a dynamical system.

The researchers implanted electrode arrays into the brains of two patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The new study provides further support for the initial findings and also lays the groundwork for advanced prosthetics like robotic arms that can be controlled by a person’s thoughts. The team is planning on working on computer algorithms that translate neural signals into electrical impulses that control prosthetic limbs.

Previously: Researchers find neurons fire rhythmically to create movement, Krishna Shenoy discusses the future of neural prosthetics at TEDxStanford, How does the brain plan movement? Stanford grad students explain in a video and Stanford researchers uncover the neural process behind reaction time
Photo by FDA

Medical Education, Patient Care, Stanford News, Surgery, Videos

Why become a doctor? A personal story from a Stanford plastic surgeon

Why become a doctor? A personal story from a Stanford plastic surgeon

Recent graduates: Never fear if you haven’t picked a career yet; it’s never too late to figure out what you want to do when you grow up. I’m on my third career, and Rahim Nazerali, MD, now an assistant professor of surgery at Stanford, is on his second.

He explains in this recent Stanford Health Care video:

I had a career in international health and I felt like I wasn’t interacting with enough people, I was doing a lot of behind the desk work and I never really interacted with the people I was affecting. I entered medicine for that reason.

And when he entered medical school at Brown University, Nazerali thought he would pursue emergency medicine or orthopedics. But he was wrong again. In the video, he describes a surgery — which he watched on his first day on a plastic surgery rotation — that convinced him that this field was the one for him. Plastic surgeons converted a gaping post-tumor chest hole into a natural looking chest: “You could hardly even tell that anyone was there,” Nazerali said. “At that point, I thought, ‘I want to do that.'”

Now, he’s on the front lines of patient care, where he hopes to stay.

“Many patients come back in after they have their confidence back, after they have their life back, after they have their time with their family back,” Nazerali said. “That’s what makes it really rewarding.”

Previously: Why become a doctor? A personal story from a Stanford oncologist, Students draw inspiration from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to up the cool factor of research careers and Stanford’s senior associate dean of medical education talks admission, career paths

Cancer, Imaging, Research, Stanford News, Surgery

Better tumor-imaging contrast agent: the surgical equivalent of “cut along dotted line”?

cut horseIt would be tough for most people to take a snubbed-nose scissors to an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of blank paper and carve out a perfect silhouette of, say, a horse from scratch. But any kid can be an artist if it means merely cutting along a boundary separating two zones of different colors.

Tumor-excision surgery requires an artist’s touch. It can be tough to distinguish cancerous from healthy tissues, yet the surgeon needs to approach perfection in precisely removing every possible trace of the tumor while leaving as much healthy tissue intact as possible. To help surgeons out, technologists have been designing contrast agents that target only tumor cells, thus providing at least a dotted line for scalpel wielders.

Stanford pathologist and molecular-probe designer Matthew Bogyo, PhD, in a study published in ACS Chemical Biology, has now demonstrated, using mouse models of breast, lung and colon cancer, the effectiveness of a fluorescence-emitting optical contrast agent that selectively accumulates in tumors and can be used to guide surgery. In effect, the probe lights up the tumor, providing a convenient, high-resolution dotted line for its excision.

Perhaps more striking, the new study showed that this probe, designed by Bogyo’s group, is compatible with a robotic remote minimally invasive surgery system that is already enjoying widespread commercial use. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., the company that sells this system, collaborated on the study.

Previously: Stanford researchers explore new ways of identifying colon cancer, Cat guts, car crashes, and warp-speed Toxoplasma infections and Compound clogs Plasmodium’s in-house garbage disposal, hitting malaria parasite where it hurts
Photo by Merryl Zorza

Medical Education, Mental Health, Nutrition, Stanford News, Surgery

Keeping an even keel: Stanford surgery residents learn to balance work and life

Keeping an even keel: Stanford surgery residents learn to balance work and life

med students in sailboat

Residency is one of the most intense times in a surgeon’s training, and it can take a toll physically and mentally on newly minted medical school graduates as they learn to cope.

To help them counter that stress, Stanford’s Department of Surgery started the Balance in Life Program for its residents. The program, and one of its team-building exercises – a sailing lesson in one of the world’s best sailing spots, the San Francisco Bay – were highlighted in a recent Inside Stanford Medicine story.

As described in the piece, the program is dedicated to the memory of Greg Feldman, MD, a former chief surgical resident at Stanford who committed suicide in 2010. The program provides basics like easy-to-access healthy meals, group therapy sessions and social activities, and Ralph Greco, MD, the program’s director said of it:

A lot of people would argue with the notion that such a program is necessary… I know our day of sailing may raise some eyebrows, but our faculty decided that we should do whatever we could to give these young people the tools they need to help them deal with the vicissitudes of life and medicine through the rest of their careers.

The article also notes that the program attracts residents interested in work-life balance to Stanford:

“The fact that we have this Balance in Life Program is great for recruitment of like-minded individuals,” [resident Micaela Esquivel, MD,] said. “I can tell medical students considering us that they would be hard-pressed to find another program that cares enough about their well-being to offer what we do.”

Previously: A call to action to improve balance and reduce stress in the lives of resident physicians, Surgeon offers his perspective on balancing life and work, Program for residents reflects “massive change” in surgeon mentality and New surgeons take time out for mental health
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Cancer, Medical Education, Stanford News, Surgery, Videos, Women's Health

Why become a doctor? A personal story from a Stanford oncologist

Why become a doctor? A personal story from a Stanford oncologist

Why become a doctor? It certainly isn’t easy, and it requires years of study and a sizable financial investment. If you ask physicians how, and why, they selected their careers, you’ll get a variety of stories that offer insight into the many benefits of pursuing medicine.

Pelin Cinar, MD, a GI oncologist here, tells her own story in this recent Stanford Health Care video.

As a child, Cinar was impressed with the respect her uncle, a gynecologist, received from family members. Then, in high school, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Meanwhile, she began pursuing the courses that matched her interest in science. Her mother recovered but then relapsed when Cinar was in college and taking pre-med requirements.

During her medical education at the University of California-Irvine, Cinar discovered that all of her favorite rotations and subjects were based on oncology. “It took off from there,” she says in the video.

Previously: Students draw inspiration from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to up the cool factor of research, Stanford’s senior associate dean of medical education talks admissions, career paths and Thoughts on the arts and humanities in shaping a medical career

Bioengineering, Cardiovascular Medicine, Stanford News, Surgery, Technology

A jugaad for keeping pacemakers in place

A jugaad for keeping pacemakers in place

This post is part of the Biodesign’s Jugaad series following a group of Stanford Biodesign fellows from India. (Jugaad is a Hindi word that means an inexpensive, innovative solution.) The fellows will spend months immersed in the interdisciplinary environment of Stanford Bio-X, learning the Biodesign process of researching clinical needs and prototyping a medical device. The Biodesign program is now in its 14th year, and past fellows have successfully launched 36 companies focused on developing devices for unmet medical needs.

IMG_6308After months of observing clinics and winnowing down the most pressing (and commercially viable) medical needs, the Stanford-India Biodesign team has developed what looks like nothing so much as a very elaborate clothespin. It is intended to help doctors ensure that coiled pacemaker leads that screw into heart tissue stay put. Currently, about five percent of those leads fall out, requiring costly additional surgery. Worldwide, the number of people whose leads fall out is estimated at 80,000 to 100,000.

Debayan Saha says their prototype is a perfect example of Indian Jugaad. It’s made of what looks like the contents of a scrap pile, and he says could both work and be cheap to produce in it’s current low-tech form. But just because it’s inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s not cleverly designed. That’s what the Indian team brings to Biodesign, he said – smart technology at low cost.

“Getting the prototype exactly right made use of all the resources we have here at Stanford,” Saha said. “But the final product is something we could produce at very low cost.” Creating technology in a developing country requires creative solutions to keep that technology affordable.

IMG_6326The group has a provisional patent on their device and they will present their it to the entire biodesign team June 8. Until that presentation they are keeping it’s exact function under wraps. They did recently test the prototype in a lamb heart, with good results. They were consistently able to screw the pacemaker lead more securely into the heart tissue.

Harsh Sheth, MD, said the team (which also includes Shashi Ranjan, PhD) will be heading back to India at the end of June and will repeat the same process there – visiting clinics, assessing needs, and prototyping a solution. He said they might later return to their Stanford prototype or keep working on whatever they design in India.

Previously: From popsicle sticks to improved medical careThe next challenge for biodesign: constraining health-care costs and Stanford-India Biodesign co-founder: Our hope is to “inspire others and create a ripple effect” in India
Photos, of Debayan Saha screwing a pacemaker lead into a lamb heart using their prototype, and of the coiled screw going into the heart, courtesy of Amy Adams

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