Lately, I have developed a keen interest in wanting to explore different medical specialties. Throughout the year I have spent some of my free time attending talks and conferences to gain a little insight into a handful of them, these include: general practice, oncology orthopaedics, cardiology and very recently surgery.
On Monday, I attended the Royal College of Surgeons for a one-day course on surgical skills. The course touched on a range of skills, from gowning/gloving, to suturing techniques and even learning how to apply local anaesthetic. Upon completion of the course, I acquired a set of quite specific yet useful practical skills.
Initially, we began with the basics of getting geared for the ‘procedures’. This involved gowning and gloving following very strict protocol/steps in order to minimize contamination as much as possible. After this, in order to get us started we practised tying knots using a piece of string. This involved multiple knot ties: one handed reef knots, surgical knots and instrument tied knots. Then, once we had grasped these basic principles, we moved onto tying these knots using the suturing equipment/material.
It took quite some time to perfect the techniques, I found that with each suturing attempt I was either putting too much tension on the wound, the sutures were not the right width or they were not straight. This was really frustrating to begin with but as one of the faculty members said “practice, practice, practice”. Eventually, the practice truly did pay off as I found that by the end of the session my fingers were running on their own as I was able to tie the knots without having to think about each step.
After reflecting on each exercise, I realized that for all of the techniques that I tried, ambidexterity, good hand eye co-ordination and even resilience were required in order to conduct the procedures in good time with satisfactory results. Although all these skills can be innate for some individuals, they are skills I found you can learn and practice, this was especially the case with ambidexterity. As a right handed individual, at the beginning of the session my left hand was pretty useless in doing anything but through the progression of the course I found I gradually made use of my left hand equally as well as my right, which is definitely an achievement!
The day ended with a quick exercise on excising a skin lesion and the removal of an artificial cyst with the aid of local anaesthetic. In order to be able to conduct these simple yet vital procedures, I had to be very meticulous. It was so easy to let the scalpel cut deeper than you wanted it too, therefore I found it was crucial to grasp the scalpel correctly, whether this was through the pencil or fingertip grip, each orientation enables its own type of cut. The fingertip grip best enables a cut through the skin however the pencil grip allows for finer and more controlled cuts. To be able to make a judgement between the two types of cuts, depending on what you are going to incise next, is a skill a surgeon is required to have in order to maintain the integrity of surrounding tissues and to ensure no damage is done.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It did not only offer me a valuable set of practical skills but it has also sparked an ongoing interest into the surgical specialty. It is a field I definitely want to keep exploring, maybe through further courses or even work experience placements. As for now, I shall keep practicing and refining the suturing skills that I have learnt.
Although the programme does come at a cost, I think it was worth it. It offers multiple benefits: suturing skills, small group work, the presence of a faculty member at all times to observe your craft and even feedback/scoring of your progress. If you are interested, here is the link https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/education-and-exams/courses/search/surgical-skills-for-students/. It is definitely worth having a go at!