Medical Students Facing Challenges With Classroom Robotics

Robotics have been making big changes to many industries including construction, manufacturing, and healthcare. In fact, healthcare was one of the first industries to see robotics at work. Arm-like automatons first made their big debut in the 1960s and 1970s. Robots like the Shakey (1966) and the Stanford Arm (1969) assisted surgeons when performing complicated surgeries.

Since then, robots in the medical field have become faster, better, stronger, and more affordable. Today, one-third of American hospitals have at least one surgical robot. It’s no secret robotics have had a positive impact on the medical field. They help to identify health risks in patients and reduce the need for invasive procedures. But just as engineers and manufacturers need to adapt to advancing AI, medical professionals need to face the hurdles that come with robotics in the healthcare industry.

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Shifting Tides: The Challenge Of Classroom Robotics In The Medical Field

Medical students, or surgical trainees, need training on proper medical procedures. They also need training on how to conduct these procedures using, or in tandem with, robotic systems.

Unfortunately, these robotic systems don’t always go hand in hand with conventionally approved approaches.

One of the norms of surgical training is that students cooperate with a senior surgeon. Students watch and assist during traditional open surgeries. This way they receive hands-on training in real time.

Yet, today’s medical students aren’t receiving the hands-on training they need. Instead, they assist the surgeon by removing fluids from the patient during surgery.

When they do learn, they’re often at the side of the senior surgeon at the robotic system’s console and only for five to 10 minutes at a time. The result? Lower-quality medical training.

The senior surgeon monitors the students at the console. They provide feedback before taking over the console again to continue the surgery.

“Even during that five or 10 minutes during practice, I’m helicopter-teaching you,” said Matt Beane of UC Santa Barbara. “Like, ‘No no no no!’ Literally that kind of stuff. … So after five minutes you’re out of the pool and you feel like a kid in the corner with your dunce cap on.”

In traditional surgery, the student would continue to watch the procedure even when they weren’t in control. They’d see what they did wrong and what they did right for future surgeries.

Yet once the surgeon takes the console away from the student, the student is unable to watch and learn. Instead, they’re left in the dark and must wait for their turn at the console again to continue learning.

Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try

Medical students may be able to conduct robotic surgeries after receiving training, but their skills are often restricted to robotic surgical systems.

Specializations in robotic surgeries are valuable. But many medical jobs require generalized medical skills. This is where robotics may be turning the advancement of the medical field on its head.

Robotics may advance healthcare by reducing health risks and increasing surgical accuracy. On the other hand, medical students are becoming less skilled because they’re learning through screens alone.

Directors may learn the art of film by watching movies. Yet they can’t learn how to create great films without picking up a camera.

The same is true for medical students. They need both generalized and specialized skills for optimal surgical training. Without hands-on, open-surgery training, students are watching versus learning.

“I realized, good gods, almost none of these [students] are actually learning how to do surgery,” Beane said. “It’s just failing.” As said by Vyacheslav Polonski at the University of Oxford, machine learning is not magic.

Healthcare Needs Humans, Not Robotics

The advancement of robotics is incredible and it’s allowing us to do more in the medical field than ever before. But AI and robotics aren’t set to take over the healthcare industry anytime soon. At least, not in the way many people think it will.

Automatons can perform many of the simple and automated things that humans can. It’s for this reason that the future of automation concerns many people.

But healthcare is one of those industries where automation can’t replace workers for a vast amount of reasons:

Patients need empathy. There may be AI technology designed to look like a baby seal to reduce anxiety in patients. But robotics can’t replicate empathy. Humans beings are social creatures. It’s not only a doctor’s skill that’s important, but their ability to be compassionate. For instance, in one study, patients preferred to use a health line to get an appointment with a doctor quicker. They didn’t want to take the recommendations of the system’s chatbot.

Professionals are needed to control complex technology. Complex technology can do great things but never without human programming, algorithms, and controlled robotics functions. What’s more, robotics are able to collect data. But they’re unable to interpret the data outside of probabilities. Humans can interpret data and symptoms in ways robotics can’t.

Doctors don’t work in a linear fashion. Math can do a lot, but it can’t predict human and animal behavior. Patients are always different and diseases differ from patient to patient. That said, data and analytics are essential to a doctor’s work. Yet doctors need to be creative and use problem-solving skills to make a diagnosis. It’s for this reason that diagnoses aren’t often made in a linear fashion.

The tech revolution isn’t human vs. robotics. Fear of technology has led many people to believe the tech revolution is an age of human versus machine, which is simply false. It’s humans developing these technologies and then choosing to replace human jobs with AI. Technology is always meant to be collaborative. Humans benefit from robotics and robotics wouldn’t exist without humans.

Technology isn’t leaving the medical industry. In fact, it’s expected that AI will make a bigger impact in healthcare within the next 10 to 15 years.

It’s necessary for humans and machines to collaborate to get medical students ready for AI, advanced machine learning, and robotics in healthcare.

Students must receive hands-on and constructive training. And robotic surgical systems need to evolve to better accommodate human learning, not only machine learning.

After all, the key to jumping over hurdles isn’t removing the hurdles, it’s warming up the right way and good old fashioned practice.

Written by Diana Lopez

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1 Comment

  1. It’s a bit uncomfortable reading such a Doom & Gloom report- and a bit misleading. The responsible robotic surgery training solution is to provide learning experiences with dual-console robotic systems. This way, the mentor surgeon can observe and guide their student, taking control when necessary, but still letting the student perform procedures where competent enough to do so. Students are still able to visualize in 3D instead of being relegated to a monitor somewhere in the OR, when their skill set isn’t quite there yet. Training cannot be accomplished without minimum standards for console time and proper simulator work.