Utah students got a chance to try robotic surgery – here’s how they surprised the pros

The devices provide minimally invasive surgeries, which allow patients to recover more quickly and reduce the risk of infections.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lone Peak High School students got to try their hand at robotic assisted surgery with the da Vinci XI robot, Monday, April 18, 2022.

Highland • As sales representatives watched students at Lone Peak High School experiment with robotic surgical devices, they were astounded by how naturally the kids handled the high-tech machinery.

The da Vinci XI robotic-assisted surgical systems, which are used for surgeries at American Fork Hospital, include a training game that keeps track of a user’s score.

The sales representatives consistently score in the mid-90s on the game, but several Lone Peak students scored a 99 out of 100 the first time they touched the equipment.

“Honestly, I think the amount of video games these kids play probably helps,” said anatomy teacher Matt Paskett. “I think they grasp how cool it is that when the doctors are in the chest cavity or abdominal cavity of a patient, they can twist and move these instruments with such precision.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lone Peak High School students got to try their hand at robotic assisted surgery with the da Vinci XI robot, the same robotic system surgeons use for training on general surgery procedures, Monday, April 18, 2022

Paskett worked with some of his friends at American Fork Hospital to set the machines up Monday in the school’s common area.

The machines are used for minimally invasive surgeries for gynecologic, urologic, thoracic and cardiac procedures. The incisions by the machine allow patients to recover more quickly and reduce the risk of infections, said Tami Montgomery, service manager at Intermountain Healthcare’s American Fork Hospital.

Many medical school graduates are training using virtual reality machines like the da Vinci XI, Montgomery said.

Students in computer science, anatomy and other classes sat in front of a large virtual reality device and used hand controls to move the da Vinci XI’s robotic arms. They practiced opening doors and putting pegs into holes with the VR game before trying to use the arms to peel the wrappers off fun-size candy bars.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A student opens a candy bar with the use of a robotic device. Lone Peak High School students got to try their hand at robotic assisted surgery with the da Vinci XI robot, the same robotic system surgeons use for training on general surgery procedures, Monday, April 18, 2022

“When I first started doing it, it was hard to figure out like the depth perception,” said Spencer Gygi, a senior at Lone Peak. “You’re looking into this monitor and you could control these two little tong-like hands … It was cool.”

Gygi, who is president of Lone Peak’s pre-medicine club, wants to become a doctor someday, but she isn’t sure what she’d like to specialize in. Working with the da Vinci XI made her want to learn more about becoming a surgeon. Several other students told Paskett the same thing.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lone Peak High School student Titan Williams, right, watches a monitor that shows the movements of Connor McBride, left, as he maneuvers two robotic arms. Students got to try their hand at robotic assisted surgery with the da Vinci XI robot, Monday, April 18, 2022.

“The goal of our classes, in career and technical education, is to get kids ready for college and career,” Paskett said. “And what better way to do that than with hands on experience?”

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