by Gail Wheatley, director, Surgical Suite: Total Knee Replacement at COSI

What is Surgical Suite: Total Knee Replacement?

For the past eight years, I have had the extreme privilege of directing a fascinating program called Surgical Suite: Total Knee Replacement. This is a live videoconference program in which COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, connects to cameras in Operating Room 2 at Mount Carmel East Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. A live audience of students and adults at COSI can see and hear the program, as can up to five student audiences that connect from schools across the country. Participants experience first-hand what goes on in the operating room during a knee replacement surgery and can ask questions of the surgeon and operating staff as the surgery progresses. Since its launch in January 2003, more than 59,000 people in 26 states have experienced this unique program.

Key Contributors

Several individuals and organizations contribute to the success of this program. The first is the medical staff at Mount Carmel East and our two "star" surgeons from The Cardinal Orthopaedic Institute, Dr. Joel Politi and Dr. Bryan Chambers. Even after eight years, everyone in the OR manages to answer each and every question as though they were hearing it for the first time. Another important contribution to the program is the great camera work by Matt Aurigema, the AV technician that runs the equipment and remotely controls the five cameras in the OR. Matt is able to take the audience around the OR for a look at the many instrument trays, monitors, equipment and personnel. He is also able to share a close-up view of the operative knee, allowing participants to see the ligaments, bones and muscles of the knee as well as abnormalities like bone spurs and worn cartilage. If a student has a question about some aspect of the operating room or the knee, Matt is able to position the cameras for a very high quality view which allows the OR team to better address the question, even at times demonstrating the answer for the participants. For instance, if a student wants to know how the four prosthetics for a total knee replacement work together, Dr. Politi can step to a side table and demonstrate how they all interact, while the cameras catch all the action.

A One-Of-A-Kind Experience for Students and Patients

This is a much more powerful experience than watching a tape of a surgery on DVD or educational television. Combine participant questions with a real-time view of surgery and you have a very high impact, memorable and engaging learning experience. Students can't take their eyes off the screen, even if they feel a bit queasy. Patients, potential patients and their families are able, for the first time, to really understand what happens during a knee replacement procedure. Since all participants have the ability to ask questions in real time during the program, individuals can pursue what interests them the most about the procedure or what they are seeing on the screen. Many of the questions are similar from case to case, such as "why don't you just replace the cartilage," or "what happens if you cut off too much bone?" But some questions are very in-depth and deal with subjects like how anesthesia works on the brain or how prosthetics are engineered and tested. Because this program is so fascinating to participants and so many different questions are asked, it is clear that learning is taking place and each individual is finding something of interest to them and creating connections to their own lives.

Surgical Suite: Total Knee Replacement achieves the desired outcome of all informal education: to offer an amazing experience that prompts people to explore on their own and find meaning and understanding that can change their lives. The change might be something as simple as understanding why a physical therapist assigns certain exercises after a knee replacement surgery or it could be as complicated as a career decision to become a surgeon or engineer. People have written after the program indicating that they lost significant amounts of weight as a result of participating (obesity can be a risk factor for needing knee surgery). Potential patients have become actual patients committing to ending their pain after seeing the program. At least four COSI team members have entered the medical profession as a result of facilitating the program for audiences! COSI takes a survey before and after each program asking students if they are interested in a medical career. There is an average 15 percent increase in interest in these careers after students experience the program.

It is my sincere hope that at least some of these students that might not otherwise have done so decide to stay in school and go on to rewarding and lucrative careers. The United States has a severe shortage of students entering medical careers and a shortage of qualified medical personnel in most areas of the country which this program might help to reduce. But in the meantime, it offers an hour and half of a really fascinating and amazing view into surgery, the human body and how technology is changing the practice of medicine.

I encourage you to experience the program for yourself! Check out COSI's Web site for dates and times.