Money saving ways to be a Surgeon in training

While there are many basic surgical skills courses available to medical students and Junior Doctors interested in surgery often such courses can be prohibitively expensive and require trainees to take time off to attend and travel to the venues.

There are a number of quite simple day-to-day things that can be done to help improve surgical skills. I have learnt a lot of these from speaking with surgeons and reading around the subject so I thought I’d share them with you.

Break some eggs

I read in Atul Gawande’s book ‘Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science’ (on here) that surgical trainees would practise to remove the shell from an egg without breaking the membrane directly beneath the shell. I’ve tried this, it’s quite tricky but good fun! If you don’t already have a scalpel you can either borrow one from your hospital or clinical skills center, or purchase a scalpel handle and some blades either online – eBay lists many vendors – ora  local crafts store should have what you need. I trust you’ll manage with finding eggs! If you’re really smart, once you’ve taken the shell off the egg you can go treat yourself to some scrambled eggs!



Get an egg and get busy

Go brush your teeth!

Almost all surgical specialties involve some laparoscopic or minimally invasive procedures. At UCL Medical School we are lucky enough to have a training sessions on a laparoscopic surgery simulator during our Obstetrics & Gynecology rotation. The system used a virtual reality computer interface that gave feedback after training sessions on which hand was more accurate. The surgeon leading the session advised that for such laparoscopic procedures and operations being ambidextrous is a necessity rather than an advantage. He recommended we start brushing our teeth using our non-dominant hands! I tried it for the first time this morning. It was fiddly using my left hand as opposed to my dominant right hand, but I can see in weeks, months and maybe even years to come that my left arm will get stronger and more ‘useful!’ The beauty of this training method is that you don’t need ANYTHING extra to start benefiting from it, apart from 2 hands… Here’s a video showing a laparoscopic simulator that I recorded – while at the Association of Surgeons in Training 2010 Annual Conference – so you have some idea of what it can involve:


Stop holding your cutlery ‘properly’

We are taught to hold scalpels and forceps in the same way that we hold pens and pencils. A surgeon running a Basic Surgical Skills course I attended at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh a few years ago said that it would be a good idea to hold your knife and fork in the same way you would hold your scalpel/forceps/pen/pencil. It has a number of benefits. Firstly, by always holding your cutlery in the same way you would hold a scalpel/pen you will be less likely to hold it ‘incorrectly’ in the operating theater or in a minor surgical setting, and it means you will not have to consciously think ‘OK, now I am in the OR and will have to hold my equipment in a specific way’ – it should just come naturally. A second benefit is that you can start to appreciate the different textures and tensile properties of foods under your knife, such as the difference between chicken skin and the chicken breast, vegetables and steak, this has big relevance to surgery where different tissues in the body have different textures and properties. The third – and probably most important to any trainee – is that again you don’t need to buy anything extra!

Dabble with haberdashery and home repairs

The same surgeon recommended that we try to do as many alterations on our clothes as by ourselves, instead of passing them on to more experienced family members and friends, or tailors. Something like sewing a button on your shirt or trousers is an activity we will all need to do at some point, if we do it ourselves we it will help improve our surgical skills. Needles, thread and fabric are not too far removed from needles, suture material and skin! I take this a step further and use any opportunity available to fix things around the house. Most recently I completely took apart my laptop (see photo below) to replace a noisy fan, then put it all back together again. A lot of surgery is taking something apart, put it back together again for it to still work – hopefully better than before. This is a skill you can practise without ever wearing scrubs or setting foot inside an operating theater! Again, the screwdrivers, hammers, screws and nails of D.I.Y. are not so far removed from the screwdrivers, hammers, screws and nails of orthopaedic surgery!

laptop stripped to pieces

Did this, put it back together, and it still works!


Use a ‘Power Ball’ gyroscopic toy

Using a gyroscopic ‘Power Ball’ toy/trainer to again increase the strength and ‘confidence’ with your non-dominant hand. These cost about $15-20.

Power Ball Gyroscope

Power Ball Gyroscope


Quit studying – go play video games!

I also think that playing certain types of video games can help improve surgical skills. Developing and improving hand-eye coordination can only be a good thing, and I think video games consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 where you physically move the games controllers, Wiimote/Nunchuk and Sixaxis controller respectively, to cause a change in the videogame world  will probably be of most use. Flight simulators will probably help a lot too. There have been a number of papers in the medical literature reporting a correlation between playing video games and poessing surgical prowess, I’m not sure how true this is as there are lots of confounding factors but I think the hand-eye coordination will only do good. The main downside here is the cost of the video games and the consoles, but if you already have them you can go put them to good use. I recommend video games like ‘Super Monkey Ball’ for the Wii.


PS3 (black) and Wii (white) controllers

PS3 (black) and Wii (white) controllers



I’m trying most of these things myself, and as I’m still a medical student I can’t really say if they improving my surgical skills or not as my surgical hands-on experience is limited, but they certainly can’t do any harm, and some of them will help you save money too so they’re worth a shot!

Good luck everyone!

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