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26 September 2018
The Cardiac Simulation lab in action

There’s an electric atmosphere in the operating theatre of the Faculty of Health Sciences, as Dr Taha Gwila and his team focus with intense concentration on the fleshy exposed heart beating rhythmically in the opened chest of the patient lying in front of them. The enormous demands of open-heart surgery are evident to everyone looking on. But there’s a catch. 

The patient is faceless and rubberised. The red liquid flowing in the pipes that network from the body is not blood. And the pulsating heart was beating in the body of a pig not too long ago. 

Cutting edge technology
This Cardiac Simulation laboratory supplied by Medtronic is the newest addition to the School of Biomedical Sciences’ clinical simulation and skills unit. 

“There’s nothing like this in Africa, and only a few in the world,” says a beaming Prof Francis Smit, Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Faculty of Health Sciences.
He explains that this new cutting edge medical technology will revolutionise the way cardiac surgeons and other health professionals are trained and assessed.

Practicing specific procedures

The simulation facilities give students with various levels of competency the opportunity to practice specific procedures in their own time and at their own pace.
“Traditionally training followed the apprentice model, where surgeons started with simple tasks and worked their way up. They assisted senior personnel and their exposure to procedures depended on the conditions presented by the patients before them,” explains Prof Smit.

The simulation technology now enables them to repeatedly practise a certain procedure without any risk to a patient. A sophisticated electronic grading system gives detailed feedback after each session, so they know in which areas to improve.  

Simulated emergencies

The system also allows trainers to create a medical emergency that the trainees then have to deal with.

“Assisting senior surgeons with high levels of competency means that in the past, trainees would often never get the chance to experience these kinds of complications during operating procedures. Now we give them a chance to build that confidence so they’ll be able to handle different situations.”  

Training hub for Africa

The UFS cardiothoracic programme is being designed to become a training hub for the whole of Southern Africa, combining distance learning with an on-site high-fidelity simulation and assessment centre.

“This is 100% real!” says an excited Dr Gwila after successfully completing his first simulation session. “As a Senior Registrar at the Cardiothoracic Department I’ve done similar procedures on real patients and there’s really no difference at all. Every registrar should do this before ever touching a real body.”

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