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New Surgical Skills Lab to train specialists and sub-specialists

- Wits University

R22-million project to enhance the training of surgeons in South Africa.

There is a critical shortage of expert medical specialists in the country, including surgeons. It is estimated that there is a need to double the current number of surgeons to fully meet the country’s needs. In addition, South Africa has been losing a number of surgical experts to the competitive overseas market due to the lack of sufficient highly specialised facilities, infrastructure, and advanced academic training programmes. 

“Wits trains more doctors, surgeons, specialists and sub-specialists than any other university in southern Africa. The new R22-million Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab will help to enhance the training of surgeons, across disciplines, in a state-of-the-art environment, with the best equipment available,” says Professor Damon Bizos, Head of Wits Surgical Gastroenterology, and the Clinical Head of Surgery at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre. “We need to replenish these specialised skills and replicate them in adequate measure in order to deliver essential services to South Africans and Africans.”

The Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab officially opened on Tuesday, 12 October 2021. It is located on the ninth floor of the Faculty of Health Sciences building in Parktown and is designed in line with international best standards. It includes the latest technologies and teaching facilities, putting the Wits surgical training programme on par with the best in the world.

If we fail to replenish the pool of surgeons in South Africa, both the training of all South African doctors and the delivery of healthcare for all will be compromised. The loss of these skills will result in the loss of services in both the private and public sectors,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal. “South Africa needs to retain highly skilled and specialised surgeons. By creating opportunities for doctors to undergo highly specialised training locally, rather than abroad, the likelihood of losing these doctors to other countries is lessened.”

The Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab will cater for the interdisciplinary training needs of surgical disciplines such as general surgery; orthopaedics; gynaecology; ear, nose and throat; cardiothoracic; urology; maxillofacial; ophthalmologic; neuro; and plastic surgery; and will include the training of specialists, doctors, nurses and other allied health practitioners.

“The basic and intermediate courses will help inculcate basic surgical competence and skills development, whilst advanced courses will ensure that experienced practitioners remain at the forefront of advances in the field,” adds Bizos. “We will offer access to in-house training as well as industry-sponsored surgical training courses and symposia. Train-the-trainer programmes and research into skills training will also be integral.”

Professor Damon Bizos, Head of Wits Surgical Gastroenterology, and the Clinical Head of Surgery at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre.

The Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Laboratory includes a large ‘wet lab’ with eight stations; laparoscopic towers and endoscopy (upper endoscopy and colonoscopy); the availability of facilities for training on cadavers; lead-lined walls to accommodate imaging; a new lecture room for 35 participants; and full audiovisual and videoconferencing facilities.

“Access to safe, high-quality surgery care remains an ongoing challenge in South Africa and beyond. There is a well-defined unmet need, and the training of surgeons and surgical care providers is an essential component of the strategy to improve surgical care and address the unmet need. Modern day approaches to training require that we must address both the technical competency and non-technical skills of the surgeon. This must be achieved in a standardised and measurable way. To do so has meant that we, as the trainers of the next generation of practitioners, must embrace new technologies and training opportunities,” says Professor Martin Smith, the Head of the Department of Surgery in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University. “We are very grateful that through the support of the University and the contributions of a number of donors we have been able to establish a facility to enhance and improve this training.”

He adds: “This multidisciplinary unit offers the most modern information technology in a versatile environment. It uses the latest skills training methodologies to ensure that when these surgeons and others provide care to patients, their advanced skills are appropriate and safe, ensuring the best outcomes for the patients and communities. It further offers us an opportunity to engage in research into new technologies and training methods.”

Click to download the media release, images, video and audio. 

The new Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Laboratory is a Wits100 Centenary Campaign project. Wits celebrates 100 years of academic and research excellence, and the advancement of the public good in 2022. Details: Wits Centenary