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Conference Studies Innovations in the Surgical Environment

 Dr. Reuben Mezrich, chair of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, got to peek at the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet.

What do surgeons and pilots have in common? More than you might think. Both work in high-tech, high stakes environments, with lives hanging in the balance. Both thrive on challenge and the pursuit of perfection.

It was this connection that brought University of Maryland School of Medicine physicians to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on June 26th, 2008 to begin a two day conference on Innovations in the Surgical Environment.

Surgeons and pilots learned from each other in a series of lectures and demonstrations held in an aircraft hanger. The power of state-of-the-art technology was apparent in the cockpits of a Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet fighter and a Maryland State Police Dauphine II helicopter. After touring these aircraft, as well as a Bell 412 helicopter used by Maryland Express Care, attendees were treated to a keynote speech from NASA Astronaut Dave Williams, a former emergency room physician who has conducted space flight experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the brain and nervous systems.

The conference is the brainchild of Adrian Park, MD, FRCS (C), FACS, professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery and head of the division of General Surgery. Dr. Park says there is much that surgeons can learn from pilots, but a surgeon’s job is no less complicated. “Their system of briefing and debriefing is one that has had great impact on their performance and we can learn from that. But the machines that we perform in and operate on are different. No matter how technologically advanced a Hornet is, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the complexities of the pancreas.”

While there are many surgical innovations to pursue, Dr. Park and his team are focusing on four main pillars: surgical visualization, smart imaging, informatics, and ergonomics/ human factors research. "Our lack of knowledge in these fields is outstanding," said Dr. Park, who believes collaboration and knowledge sharing will improve surgical training and promote research. "Hopefully this is our breakout year, where we really spur the broader community," he adds. "Not just with the whiz bang stuff, but to get them to really collaborate on substantive issues. We're defining those issues and hopefully bringing the folks together to cross-pollinate and create real interdisciplinary, collaborative research."

In addition to the U.S. Navy and the Maryland State Police Aviation Administration, conference participants included the University of Maryland Center for Medical Simulation for Skill Acquisition (MASTRI), The U.S. Army and Maryland Express Care.

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 Both surgeons and Navy pilots spoke on a panel about working and training in a high-stakes environment.

 Senator Francis Kelly was among the attendees viewing the F/A-18, whose pilot was more than happy to answer questions about his high-stakes job.

 The State Police showcased one of the Dauphine II helicopters they use to transport critically ill patients across Maryland.

 The crews on Maryland Express Care helicopters include a pilot, a paramedic and a nurse.

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