TCL becomes first in South Carolina to receive new surgical simulator

Laparoscopic simulator will provide “surg-tech” students with realistic, advanced training

Thanks to a new piece of equipment that uses virtual reality technology, students in Technical College of the Lowcountry’s Surgical Technology Program can practice assisting with medical procedures before ever stepping foot into an operating room.

Called LapSim®, this advanced simulator uses a “multi-sensory” training experience to give students a realistic feel for what laparoscopic, or minimally invasive surgery, is like.

“It will get them as close to the real thing as possible without compromising patient safety,” said Ashley Sumner, TCL’s Surgical Technology Program Director.

Students will still participate in clinical rotations which will give them actual real-world experience, Sumner went on to say.

(l-r) Surgical Technologist student Suniah Danaher tries her hand at the new LapSim® while program director Ashley Sumner looks on.

“However, the more we can expedite and enhance the learning process, the better,” she said.

Recently, Sumner, students and other faculty in the program were able to try their hand at using the simulator.

TCL was able to purchase the equipment, after applying for and receiving a Federal Perkins Grant. The equipment, which included two program modules requested by TCL, cost about $60,000, Sumner said. TCL is also the first and only college in South Carolina to have the equipment, said company representatives who were on hand for the demonstration.

So how does it work?

Much like the real thing, the simulator is set up with hand pieces that represent real laparoscopic instruments in three different ports, or incisions, in a patient’s abdomen. The LapSim then guides users through several tasks to assess their abilities. Some of these tasks include navigating a camera in the surgical abdomen, using laparoscopic instruments such as graspers to practice fine motor skills, and identifying anatomy.

Virtual reality scenarios are displayed on a computer monitor and mimic the same setup that a surgical technologist would encounter when assisting with such laparoscopic surgeries as gallbladder removal or hysterectomies.

The LapSim program also provides students with assessments which means students are evaluated in a non-biased manner using the same evaluation criteria every time, Sumner noted.

“This also gives them the time to learn and work with the equipment without being rushed,” she said.

What do Surg-Techs Do?

Contrary to popular belief, surg-techs do more than just hand instruments to surgeons.

“Surgical technologists’ number one priority is to maintain the integrity of the sterile field to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients,” Sumner said.

In addition, they prep and care for patients and are expected to know which instruments, supplies and medications to use for which procedure.

They also have to anticipate what the surgeon may need, and even what complications can arise so they can quickly and seamlessly assist members of the surgical team. That’s why students in TCL’s two-year associate-degree program are required to take a variety of classes including anatomy, surgical procedures and more.

In fact, South Carolina is one of only about a dozen states that require surg-techs to be certified. Many states have hospitals that require certification prior to employment, Sumner said, but South Carolina is one of only 11 states to require certification state-wide, which makes TCL’s graduates even more desirable and in demand.

Employment of surgical technologists

was projected to grow nine percent

from 2020 – 2030,

according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As with many jobs in the healthcare field, surgical technologists are also in demand overall, said Education Specialist Mel Angelisanti with Surgical Science Inc., suppliers of the LapSim® and other medical training equipment.

“We cannot keep up with the demand,” said Angelisanti, who is also a certified surg-tech as well as a certified surgical first assistant.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of surgical technologists was projected to grow nine percent from 2020 to 2030 – something TCL’s health sciences department knows all too well since they work with some of the area’s largest hospitals in helping to meet staffing demands.

In addition to classroom lectures, students in the program spend about six hours a week in the lab and participate in clinical rotations twice a week for about 16 or more hours a week.

Surg-Tech student Brittany Giles (center) also tried out the new equipment recently while her fellow students, TCL faculty and company representatives look on.

An Invaluable Addition

Second semester surg-tech student Sarah Lafond gave the LapSim® a big thumbs up. Lafond had already used laparoscopic instruments during clinical rotations, she said, and found that while the controls were looser, overall the simulator “looked and felt pretty realistic.”

“It will definitely help with dexterity,” she said.

Originally from Charleston, Lafond would like to stay and work in the Beaufort area or return home to Charleston after she graduates, and is open to working for either a hospital or in a private setting.

“I’m interested in vascular surgery as well,” she said.

In the meantime, surg-tech program leaders are excited by what the new equipment means for TCL students.

“The students we are teaching now are very technology oriented. That’s what captures their attention,” said Sumner. And while students have different learnings styles, nothing compares to having a realistic hands-on experience like the one provided by the new equipment, she said.

“By incorporating this technology into our curriculum and laboratory teachings, we expect our students to far exceed the expectations of an entry-level surgical technologist. It’s really just an invaluable addition to our program.”

For More Information

Interested in enrolling in the Surgical Technologist Program or learning more about TCL’s other health sciences programs? Visit www.tcl.edu/academics/pathways/health-sciences.