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Virtually acquired medical skills are life-saving

 Virtually acquired medical skills are life-saving (Photo: iStock)

It was that time of the year when we admit new doctors for our consultants' training programme. New trainees join the programme with excitement, itching to become consultants. For the existing consultants, there is always some trepidation, as new doctors usually require direct supervision for safe patient care.

We shorten the time to acquisition of specialised skills by using medical simulation. This is not any different from pilots training in simulated cockpits, in order to fly more sophisticated aircraft. Medical simulation is now so advanced, trainees learn complex surgical techniques in virtual labs, well before touching live patients.

Competencies in emergency and life-saving skills take priority. I'll always remember Dr Karimi who appeared to stand out with virtually acquired medical skills. I was her training supervisor, and she tagged along with me in my daily clinical activities. She was able to handle lots of clinical issues, mostly getting by with only phone advice from me whenever necessary. She was going to make a great gynaecologist.

Her competency was about to get tested prematurely though. It was a long holiday weekend, catching me and her as the on-call team. Most of the other departmental members were out on a break. "It's going to be quiet", I predicted on the Friday evening, "but don't hesitate to call me in for any reason". I secretly hoped the night would pass without me being needed.

It wasn't to be. The emergency phone call always rings in the middle of the night, when sleep is sweetest. "Dr Karimi here", said the voice on the other end. She needed me in for an emergency she couldn't handle without my presence. Within no time, I was speeding off to the hospital. I never arrived. I woke up the next day to find myself in a hospital bed with bandages, bruises and aches all over. I had survived a bad car crash whose recollection I didn't have!

Days later, as my memory resurfaced, I started to recall events. Dr Karimi passed by to see me, I enquired what had become of the emergency I never arrived for. "The woman survived" she said, beaming with pride. In my absence, she had no choice but to start operating to save life. She had never done such a procedure on a live patient. She had however done it countless times on a simulator, and she had to rely on virtually acquired skills, or the patient was going to die! By the time a colleague arrived to help out, the patient was out of danger.

My recovery was quick and I resumed work within weeks. I was just in time to attend Dr Karimi's celebratory award as the 'Virtual (and real) Surgeon of the Year'.

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