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A long-term collaboration between Stellenbosch University and global medical technology corporation, Medtronic, has yielded an investment in excess of R120 million into healthcare training and education in South Africa. The announcement today of the opening of a state-of-the-art, integrated clinical training laboratory to be housed within the Division of Anatomy at Stellenbosch University is set to revolutionise the training of specialists and other health professionals throughout the sub-Saharan region.
The purpose-built Sunskill Laboratory will offer eight fully simulated theatre operating stations, a 'dry' laboratory, a 100 seat lecture theatre and a virtual ICU - all complemented and connected by breakthrough audio-visual capabilities. The Sunskill offering is geared to train up to 1200 physicians within the first year of operation.
The Sunskill Laboratory is poised to attract specialists and other healthcare professionals from across the continent to learn new techniques and hone their existing skills. The intended downstream benefits will include improved patient outcomes, shorter hospital lengths of stay, reduced healthcare costs, and the introduction of new skills and services across a range of geographies.
The Sunskill Laboratory will provide trainees exposure to cutting-edge procedural techniques through simulation of a real world operating environment. The Laboratory, which is equipped with the most advanced medical technology, including key-hole surgery endoscopes, high definition surgical microscopes and image guided navigation equipment, supports training in multiple medical disciplines including, critical care physicians, general surgeons, plastic surgeons, urologists, ENT surgeons, neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons.
The Vice Dean: Research of Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Prof Nico Gey van Pittius, believes that the Sunskill Laboratory will further enhance the faculty's reputation as a centre of excellence for the training of doctors and healthcare professionals.
"Surgical proficiency requires a rigorous understanding of the human anatomy and surgical techniques in order to successfully alleviate disease. Specialist surgical training has always required a fine balance between doctors gaining surgical experience while not putting patients' health at risk in order to do so. Our specialists-in-training now have a 'safe', observed environment where they are able to perfect their skills before operating," he said.
Mr Peter Fuller, Vice President and Managing Director of Medtronic Africa, suggests that the lack of resources and the migration of skills from the sub-continent has a real impact on access to quality healthcare for millions of people.
"We believe that through simulated training and using the latest techniques and equipment, this facility will add value to health systems across the sub-continent through improved clinical management and better patient outcomes, thereby increasing access to quality healthcare," he said.
Medtronic and Stellenbosch University are perfectly aligned to support better patient outcomes at reduced costs throughout the region, Fuller said.
Gaining proficiency in new operating methods using minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as those used by neurosurgeons in micro- and endoscopic surgery, generally requires longer periods of training than conventional procedures. Currently, this training is addressed within the operating theatre, potentially compromising the utilisation of theatre time and cost. Sunskill training should help in progressing along the learning curve.
According to Professor Ian Vlok, Head of the Division of Neurosurgery at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and collaborator on the Sunskill Laboratory project, most surgical disciplines require a combination of academic knowledge, the ability to perform manually dextrous tasks and a patient-centered ethos. This skillset can only be gained from task repetition observed under close expert supervision. He believes that proficiency gained through Sunskill's simulated environment, which precisely mimics the real world operating environment, will expose trainees to a spectrum of procedures, and help produce more highly skilled surgeons.
"The University requires that a minimum number of procedures within the various disciplines are performed in order to qualify as a specialist. The specialist training programmes will now implement the requirement for regular full theatre simulation sessions under consultant supervision in the Sunskill Laboratory before proceeding to patients," says Vlok.
The dual 'wet' and 'dry' laboratory is an ideal environment for primary care practitioners, nurses and other health professionals to acquire niche skills such as placing of central venous lines, emergency air-way management and skills required in an ICU setting.
The constant introduction of new technology into many fields of medicine requires that even the most experienced specialists are required to up-skill themselves to ensure the use of best-practice techniques in the management of their patients.
The Sunskill Laboratory will therefore be made available to those outside of the academic sphere for post-specialist courses on new technologies and methodologies. The Laboratory will be updated with new technology to ensure that it remains at the forefront of advancements made in medical science.
Gey van Pittius also believes that the Sunskill Laboratory will provide new research opportunities for the University.
"To the extent that a university is as good as the research it produces, this Laboratory will promote increasing cross-disciplinary work, thereby enabling many previously untapped areas of research," he noted.
Arguably one of the most advanced Laboratories of its kind in the region, according to Vlok, the Sunskill Laboratory will attract doctors and experts from across the globe to share their excellence and expertise at dedicated courses and meetings.
"Medical science is forever evolving, and in many disciplines South African practitioners remain at the forefront. Sunskill is the platform to share our skills and acquire skills from our foreign counterparts. A year's worth of courses and trainings has already been planned, with the first multi-national session commencing on the 26th of July - over 40 international neurosurgeons will be utilising Sunskill for an intense training session ranging from basic anatomy to the most advanced minimally invasive key-hole surgery," he commented.