It was a human and robotic hands-on learning experience for a lucky group of Solomon Schechter Day School sixth graders, who got to “perform surgery” at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center last week.
Okay, so the students may have lifted lollipops and gumballs, and unwrapped Starburst cubes, instead of cutting tissue and removing organs. And they may have been gathered in the hospital’s lobby, not inside a high-tech, sterile operating room.
Nevertheless, these youngsters got a real feel for one of today’s most cutting-edge and increasingly popular surgical procedures — robotic surgery.
After an introduction and some instruction, the students got the chance to sit at the operating console of the da Vinci surgical system and direct the hulking machine as it performed various delicate maneuvers, just like a skilled surgeon would do in the operating room.
“We figured it was really good for the kids to show them what we’re doing,” said Dr. Anna Serur, the hospital’s chief of colon and rectal surgery, who spearheaded the event. “We also wanted to have them keep in mind that there are very exciting things to do in medicine,” she added. “Sometimes it’s better to learn in the field than from behind the desk.”
Dr. Serur is the mother of five children, including four who are students at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford. A seasoned surgeon, Dr. Serur, who joined Englewood in January, has performed more than 500 procedures using the da Vinci surgical system.
The daylong demonstration of the $2 million da Vinci surgical system — the youngsters were not using the hospital’s actual robotic system, but one on loan from the company specifically for the event — also was part of the hospital’s education effort for Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Serur stressed the importance of screenings, especially when there may be family history of colon and rectal cancer.
“The goal is to educate people every month,” she said.
Among the Solomon Schechter sixth graders at the hospital was Avital Serur, Dr. Serur’s 11-year-old daughter. She got to learn a thing or two about the robotic system — and about her own mother. “I thought my mother did her surgery with hands and tools,” Avital said. “I never imagined that doctors would use this robot. It was really fun.”
Another student, Jayden Shalom, 12, said the experience was not only eye-opening, but also possibly life-altering. “Now I want to become a surgeon,” Jayden said. “I was really inspired.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Rabbi Fred Elias, principal of the middle school at Solomon Schechter Day School, said he received more than five emails from parents who told him that their children were so excited by their visit to Englewood Hospital that they, too, expressed interest in becoming doctors. “It was a fantastic interactive opportunity for the kids,” Rabbi Elias said of the field trip, which, he added, aligns with the school’s “21st century approach to learning.”
Rabbi Elias also noted that the students — whose first language in some senses is digital — took to the robotic technique with complete ease. “It was incredible how good they were at it,” he said. “It’s not always easy to engage middle schoolers. But this did.
“It also provided so much for them to think and dream big for the opportunities that await them in the 21st century.”