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Roswell Park program teaches students the fundamentals of robotic surgery

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is all about innovation. At the hub of the campus is Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In 2014, Roswell Park introduced an innovative program for high school students called the Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge.

The Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge, designed by Dr. Khurshid Guru, director of the Roswell Park Center for Robotic Surgery, and Eileen O’Brien, Ph.D., a science educator and founder of Learning Triangle Labs, LLC, offers high school students an opportunity to truly become robotic surgeons. Students receive first-hand experience and utilize an actual surgical robot through the daVinci Surgical System. The Fundamental Skills of Robotic Surgery curriculum, which is used when training robot-assisted surgeons, is also brought over into this program.

Students who participate in the Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge explore hands-on lessons from this curriculum and experience many similar challenges to real life robot-assisted surgeons. In addition to the curriculum assignments, students participate in recitation discussion groups, hands-on lab practicals, as well as presentations on ethics, compassion, leadership and teamwork.

In past years, students have fallen in love with this program and the opportunities it brings. In the 2015 program, Christian Prechtl from St. Francis High School walked away as the first place champion and a $2,000 scholarship. Msaada Nankumba from Lafayette High School was awarded the Champion of Compassion award. Many other awards also were given out, such as Best MCAT Score, Best Application Portfolio, Champion of Leadership, and Best Team Performance.

The students from the 2015 program developed their knowledge of robotic surgery throughout the summer, but left Roswell Park learning much more than just the facts.

“I was able to learn that hard work and good character can really be the foundation for success in any field,” said Jill Stachowski, a junior at Immaculata Academy in Hamburg, who participated in the program last year, said.

“There are so many great opportunities for people with diverse interests, from engineering to anatomy. The program encompasses so many interesting topics,” said Leah Ferger, a senior at Clarence High School. “Before the program I knew that I wanted to pursue an education in science, but having this opportunity created a greater passion for the medical environment,” she said.

Roswell Park is now accepting applications for the Junior Robotic Surgery Challenge. This year’s program takes place from June 24 through July 23. Students 16 to 19 years of age by June 1, 2016, can apply to the program. The cost is $400 per participant, and financial aid is available. Last year almost 50 percent of students received financial aid. The application deadline is Feb. 29.

As past participant Bridget Herod from St. Mary’s High School said, “This program gives you opportunities that will never happen this young in life.”

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Grace Brach is a sophomore at Nardin.

“Before the program I knew that I wanted to pursue an education in science, but having this opportunity created a greater passion for the medical environment.” Leah Ferger, senior, Clarence High School.