discoveries magazine

A Good Match: Training Surgeons Like Athletes

An illustration of a surgeon training like a tennis player.

Kenneth Kim, MD, MHPE, didn’t know that his backhand would come in so handy during his surgical training as a resident.

Since 2020, here have been using simulators to teach residents how to perform robotic-assisted procedures and improve surgical performance.

Unlike other robotic surgery-training systems, the SimNow by da Vinci is designed to help train surgeons like athletes.

"In professional sports, there are so many technologies to measure performance and figure out optimal body mechanics, like bat speed in baseball," says Kim. "Surgical training has never been objective like that.'"

Prior to medical school, Kim, the Board of Governors Chair in Gynecologic Oncology, was a certified pro tennis coach—and leveraged this expertise to help develop the SimNow simulators.

"To get my tennis pro certification, I was required to take courses in swing mechanisms and body kinetics," Kim says. "When I became a surgeon, I applied this to how I teach surgery."

When using robotic-assisted surgery and more complex surgical systems, Kim says surgeons have to overcome two learning curves: how to use the surgical tools with the proper technique and then how to perform the procedure itself.

Kim describes training residents with the SimNow as similar to a "wax on, wax off" approach, as seen in the movie The Karate Kid, only "the goal is to master surgical techniques that you’re going to apply in actual surgery," he says.

The impact that robotic-surgery simulators have on residents’ surgical abilities is something Kim has seen firsthand.

"The improvements are palpable and noticeable," he says. "At Cedars-Sinai, we have so many excellent robotically trained surgeons, we’re really poised to do it better than anyone else."