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Ultrasound and Robotic Surgery Advances: What Premeds Should Know



Doctors and medical school students are using technological tools more often for patient care and medical education.

Physicians operate technological tools in their patient diagnostic workups and treatments. For example, ultrasound is used across specialties to help diagnose patients for an array of conditions – from pneumonias to gallstones – and to limit radiation exposure.

Another technological advancement is robotic surgery, which is becoming more common among surgeons in order to make procedures more precise and minimally invasive.

Ultrasound Can Improve Diagnostic Accuracy, Lower Costs

Ultrasound has been used in medicine for decades, commonly thought of as ultrasounds of babies during a mother’s pregnancy. In the past decade, the use of the more portable bedside ultrasound is becoming more common among doctors. The technology has evolved so that a clinician can use a portable handheld ultrasound and look at images on his or her phone.

Throughout shadowing experiences and clinical research, premed students can encounter doctors who use ultrasound, particularly in the fields of OB/GYN, emergency medicine, internal medicine and global health.

“I view bedside ultrasound as an extension of the physical examination that offers exciting possibilities for accurately diagnosing a variety of patient conditions in a rapid, cost-effective manner,” he says. “I can examine a patient’s organs in real time to make important decisions on how to manage his or her conditions. This is crucial when they are extremely ill, as in my practice.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “we were using bedside ultrasound to quickly diagnose lung inflammation and predict a patient’s course without having to obtain X-rays or CT scans,” Kumar says. “It was a powerful, cost-effective tool that quickly identified who was likely to get worse.”

Premed and med students can ask doctors to teach them how to use an ultrasound and highlight anatomical features on a sonogram. Kumar suggests that students become more familiar with the use of bedside ultrasonography, as its usage will increase throughout their training.

“When compared to using the physical examination alone, studies have shown that the addition of bedside ultrasound improves our diagnostic accuracy and lowers the cost associated with unnecessary testing,” Kumar says.

Robotic Surgery Has Health and Safety Benefits

The traditional approach to surgeries has been open surgery with large incisions and greater exposure of internal organs to the outside air.

In robotic surgery, keyhole-size incisions are made in a person’s body and the robotic arms are inserted into these small incisions with a high-definition camera. At the end of these robotic arms, specialized miniature instruments such as scissors, needle drivers, graspers and energy delivery devices can be manipulated by the surgeon.

“I love working with my hands, and I was excited to expand my surgical skills with robotic-assisted surgeries,” he says. “Some of the most common procedures we perform with robotic assistance are for a variety of oncology cases, where precision is paramount in removing cancer without damaging nearby structures.”

Clinical studies have revealed numerous benefits of robotic-assisted surgeries, Yim adds, including “less post-operative pain, lower risk of infection, decreased blood loss, shorter length of hospital stays and improved cosmetic healing of surgical scars.”

Premed students can gain exposure to robotic surgery primarily by shadowing a surgeon who performs robotic procedures. Various surgical subspecialties use robotics, including urology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, cardiothoracic surgery and otolalryngology, which involves conditions of the head and neck.

Premed students can also find several high-quality robotic surgeries on video-hosting platforms like YouTube.

In terms of surgery that involves operating on humans, training with robots doesn’t truly begin until med school and residency, Yim says. However, it’s critical for premeds to start identifying what excites them in medicine, he says, adding that for him it was surgery.

“Additionally, if one is interested in the engineering and technical aspects behind robotics, having a background in computer science, electrical engineering or biomedical engineering gives you a unique background and ability to innovate with medical device companies,” Yim says.

By being aware of technological advances such as ultrasound and robotic surgery, premeds can ask doctors to expose them to these fields. Some premed internships and summer research programs offer students the opportunity for simulations and other technology-based learning.

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