Dr. Kyrkanides, second from left, and his research team.

UK Dentistry dean aims for excellence through research

Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides began a research project during his orthodontic residency studying children born with cleft lip and palate. It was this project that sparked the realization for him that research is crucial and has been a driving force throughout his career.

“It was through the cleft lip/palate project and others that I came to the realization that research is the main engine in producing new, original knowledge so we can advance our science, both in medicine and dentistry, in order to improve patient care,” Kyrkanides said.

Watch a video featuring Dr. Kyrkanides below.

Dean of the UK College of Dentistry, Kyrkanides is both a dentist and neuroscientist. He came to UK last year from Stony Brook University in New York, one of the leading public research institutions in the country.

Kyrkanides has many accomplishments including inventing Natural Enamel, a new biomaterial for use in restorative dentistry. He also collaborated with researchers from across the country, including Dr. Sabine M. Brouxhon from the UK College of Medicine Department of  Surgery, to develop a novel cancer drug while at the State University of New York that is licensed by COI Pharmaceuticals Inc., an Avalon Ventures/GlaxoSmithKline consortium.

Currently, Kyrkanides and his team are dedicated to researching regenerative dentistry and are working to prove that dental enamel and fillings can be made out of patients’ cells. This would eliminate having to use plastic, metal or glass for dental reconstruction.

Kyrkanides said being a researcher at UK has been a rewarding experience.

“Having joined UK from the east coast, I have realized that UK, as a campus, is the place to be as a researcher,” he said. “It offers many collaborative opportunities through its many centers, such as the Markey Cancer Center, an NCI designated center … the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the Center for Oral Health and many others. There’s probably no other place where all this activity happens on one campus.”

Kyrkanides has excelled during his career and continues to accomplish more goals at UK. He believes that he is in a great atmosphere for research and has big plans to further transform the school of dentistry.

“As dean of the college, I’m committed in leading UK Dentistry into its full potential,” he said. “What I realized from the beginning, is that we have a group of faculty, staff and students that are very talented, very motivated and willing to work hard to join me into making UK Dentistry the No. 1 dental school in the country, maybe in the globe.”


Next steps:

  • Learn more about UK Dentistry, which offers expert comprehensive dental treatment for the entire family, including general, orthodontic and oral surgery services.
  • Visit UK Dentistry on Facebook to stay up to date on community events, programs, treatments, research, new physicians and more.
Ron and Carolyn Borkowski visit with the UK Sanders-Brown Center team member Marie Smart.

UK Sanders-Brown Center receives $8.25 million for Alzheimer’s research

The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Center (ADC) has been awarded an $8.25 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue and further research and clinical initiatives geared toward treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, only 30 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers exist in the U.S. In 1985, Sanders-Brown was among the first 10 ADCs funded by the NIH and has been continuously funded since the designation was launched.

The power of advanced medicine

“The Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is one of UK’s outstanding centers, and continued federal funding from the National Institutes of Health is yet another acknowledgement of its excellence,” said UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto. “The University of Kentucky is proud to play a leading role in the international effort to discover solutions for what is arguably one of society’s greatest medical mysteries and challenges.”

Capilouto noted that the University of Kentucky is one of an elite group of 21 universities in the nation to house a trifecta of nationally accredited research institutions, including a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer research center (Markey Cancer Center), an NIH-funded Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) and the National Institute on Aging-funded Alzheimer’s research center (Sanders-Brown Center on Aging).

More than just research

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr said the grant means much more than dollars and cents. “By 2050, Alzheimer’s diagnoses are expected to triple, with an associated cost of more than $1 trillion,” Barr said. “We cannot stand by and watch people suffer both financially and emotionally, and this grant rightfully continues a legacy that has benefited not only the citizens of Lexington and the Commonwealth but also people around the world.”

According to Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of Sanders-Brown, the center is a leader in the detection of early neuropathological changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementias, made possible in part by a large cohort of more than 800 volunteers – both healthy and cognitively impaired – in the Sanders-Brown Longitudinal Study, which generates significant amounts of data about how healthy brain aging occurs and when and why some people develop Alzheimer’s.

However, she says, research is just one component of the center’s efforts.

“We often say Alzheimer’s is a family disease.  It affects the patient primarily, but it is a devastating financial and emotional burden for family and caregivers as well,” she said. “Sanders-Brown offers outreach, education and support to help patients and their families get the help they need to lead active and engaged lives.”

“We’re honored that the NIH continues to recognize the caliber and scope of our work with this grant,” Van Eldik said.

‘Sanders-Brown is a jewel in our own backyard’

Ron and Carolyn Borkowski of Lexington are both givers to and beneficiaries of Sanders-Brown’s work. Carolyn, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012, is a patient, and both she and Ron participate in the Longitudinal Study and will donate their brains to Sanders-Brown upon their deaths.

“I’d hate to see where we’d be without Sanders-Brown,” Ron said. “The doctors and the staff are not just with you – they are truly for you.”

“Sanders-Brown is a jewel in our own backyard.”

UK initiated its aging program in 1963. With a grant from the Eleanor and John Y. Brown Jr. Foundation in 1972, the construction of the current Sanders-Brown Research Building was begun and, with additional funding from the state, a program in biomedical research was implemented. In 1979, under the direction of the late Dr. William Markesbery, Sanders-Brown emerged as a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of life for the elderly through research and education.

Chandler Dining

Come enjoy the new Chandler Dining!

Chandler Dining, UK HealthCare’s new state-of-the-art dining experience, opened its doors to the public on Monday.

Our new dining space is unlike any hospital cafeteria you’ve seen before, and we want you to stop by to enjoy the tasty meal options our chefs are creating. Chandler Dining is open not only to patients, families and staff, but to the public as well. Stop by and enjoy a great meal!

Located on the first floor concourse of Chandler Hospital Pavilion A, Chandler Dining is open 22 hours a day, featuring nine food stations, eight checkout lines and several other unique features.

Stations:

  • Italian Tratttoria (pizza, pasta, flatbread)
  • Deli (freshly carved meats)
  • Chef Table (exhibition station)
  • Traditions (traditional home-cooked meals)
  • Chop Chop (made-to-order signature salads)
  • Salad/Soup Bar
  • Southwestern Grill (hamburgers, grilled cheese, French fries, chicken, fish)
  • Sushi
  • Starbucks Coffee

Features:

  • Stone hearth oven
  • Chef Table (featuring five interchangeable cooking display units)
  • Teaching kitchen
  • Global menu offerings
  • Healthy and sustainable initiatives
  • Specialty made-to-order coffee drinks and smoothies
  • Menus on digital screens
  • Fresh carved meats at deli
  • Local artwork in the dining area
  • Water container filling station in the dining area

Chandler Dining hours of operation:

  • Breakfast: 6-10 a.m.
  • Closed: 10-11 a.m.
  • Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Light lunch: 2-4 p.m.
  • Dinner: 4-7 p.m.
  • Late night: 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Check out the video below to see our chefs in action and learn more about the Chandler Dining experience.

Colleen Swartz

Colleen Swartz, UK HealthCare chief nurse executive, named Leader to Watch

Congratulations to UK HealthCare’s chief nurse executive, Dr. Colleen Swartz, who is featured on the cover of this month’s Nurse Leader journal as a national nursing Leader to Watch.

Swartz sat down with Nurse Leader for an extensive interview about her career, the nursing profession and what it means to be a leader in health care.

She also offered advice for new nursing leaders, emphasizing the importance of ongoing self-improvement.

“Self-reflection and self-awareness must be an ongoing process for nurse leaders throughout their careers. An essential piece of the process is identifying the gaps in one’s repertoire of leadership skills, then developing a plan to address them,” Swartz said. “The strongest nurse leaders I know have honed this process and engage in it on a daily basis. It is truly an expression of humility that is foundational in leadership.”

Swartz also had a chance to reflect on the legacy of her career in nursing.

“Our nursing motto at UK, ‘Every patient, every time,’ is very personal to me, and I hope I have been able to impart that as a grounding principle for all of those whom I have had the privilege to lead,” she said. “Never losing sight of the reality that leading is both a privilege and a responsibility – one that can never be taken lightly or for granted.”


Next steps:

Kentucky's best hospital

What it means to be Kentucky’s best hospital

We’re no stranger to No. 1 rankings at the University of Kentucky. Last week, we added another first-place finish to our resume – UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital was named Kentucky’s best hospital in the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospital rankings.

This is a tremendous honor for all of us here at UK HealthCare, but we’re most proud of what it means for our patients. Being ranked as the top hospital in Kentucky is further proof that when you come to UK HealthCare, you can feel confident you’re in good hands. Our goal is not to win awards; it’s to deliver the highest-quality care to every patient, every day.

UK HealthCare is Kentucky’s No. 1 hospital. But we’re so much more than that.

We are 9,000 people – physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals – all dedicated to providing the most advanced, most effective care available, not just in Kentucky but anywhere.

We are physicians and other medical professionals trained in the most sophisticated, most up-to-the-minute medical techniques so that no Kentuckian, no matter how sick they are or how rare their illness, needs to go far from home for the treatment they need.

We are a Level 1 trauma center, ready every minute of every day to treat even the most serious injuries when they come through the door. And a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, caring for the tiniest and sickest newborns – and giving them a chance not just to live, but to live normal, productive, happy lives.

We are nurses providing care for every patient, every time that’s so good it has received Magnet status, the highest recognition available in the nursing field.

We are educators in our six health professions colleges teaching the next generations of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, spreading the highest standards of care like ripples to the future.

We are researchers working to discover treatments and cures not yet even imagined.

And we are a network of partnerships and outreach locations throughout the state, so that world-class care is always close to home.

UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine.

And all of that power is here for you.

To learn more about our No. 1 ranking from the U.S. News & World Report, visit our website.

Best hospital in Kentucky

UK HealthCare named Kentucky’s best hospital

UK HealthCare’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital has been named Kentucky’s best hospital in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals rankings released Aug. 2. It also is the only hospital in the state rated as High Performing in cancer.

In addition to being named the top hospital in Kentucky, UK HealthCare is ranked 45 nationally in Geriatrics. In addition to cancer, we are considered High Performing in five other specialty areas: Diabetes & Endocrinology, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics and Pulmonology.

UK HealthCare also ranked as high performing – the highest rating ‒ in eight out of nine types of common adult procedures and conditions. Those conditions are: heart bypass surgery, heart failure, abdominal aortic aneurysm, colon cancer surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hip replacement, knee replacement and lung cancer.

“This acknowledges the exemplary work of our health care team in providing the highest quality patient care in the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs. “We are committed to being one of the premier academic medical centers in the country and dedicated in serving those who need complex medical care without ever having to travel far from their home.”

To be recognized as a Best Hospital this year, a hospital had to have been categorized in the American Hospital Association annual survey database as a general medical-surgical hospital and had to earn either at least one national ranking in the 12 data-driven specialties or at least four ratings of “high performing” across the 12 specialty rankings and nine rated procedures and conditions.

“This honor belongs to our physicians, nurses and staff,” said Dr. Phillip K. Chang, UK HealthCare chief medical officer. “Every day and every night, they go above and beyond to make sure our patients get the best possible care.”

The U.S. News Best Hospitals analysis includes multiple clinical specialties, procedures and conditions. Scores are based on a variety of patient-outcome and care-related factors, such as patient safety and nurse staffing.

In February 2016, UK HealthCare achieved Magnet Status – the highest institutional honor awarded for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program. This designation factors into the U.S. News rankings and contributed to this year’s score.

“Our entire interprofessional team is proud of our Magnet designation and its impact and significance for UK HealthCare and the patients we serve,” said Collen Swartz, UK HealthCare chief nursing executive. “The team’s work has been exemplified in the production of superb clinical outcomes as well as excellence in patient- and family-centered care, and they are well deserving of this recognition based on their hard work, commitment and scientific approach to care across the continuum.”

UK HealthCare has seen the number of patients who are 75 or older nearly double in the past 10 years. This volume and the level of care for these patients attributed to the national ranking in geriatrics. Additionally, the University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare are home to the only National Institute on Aging (NIA) funded Alzheimer’s disease center in Kentucky, the prestigious UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and Markey Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center in the Commonwealth.

“Our goal is to provide the safest and highest quality patient care to those who come to us from every county in Kentucky, as well as from many other states, by providing them the expertise of integrated, multidisciplinary teams working to solve the most complex health issues,” said Bo Cofield, UK HealthCare vice president and chief clinical operations officer. “I congratulate our entire UK HealthCare team on this tremendous accomplishment and commend their work and dedication to patient care in the Commonwealth

To read the complete U.S. News rankings for 2016-17, visit http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals.

UK researcher leads International Epilepsy Cure Initiative

With the help of an $8.5 million grant, a UK researcher will lead an international team of scientists to pursue a cure for Lafora’s disease, a deadly neurodegenerative condition.

Lafora’s disease appears in patients during adolescence and causes severe epilepsy, loss of speech and muscle control, and dementia, eventually leading to death.

Matthew Gentry

Matthew Gentry

Under the guidance of University of Kentucky College of Medicine Professor Matthew Gentry, the five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant establishes the International Epilepsy Cure Center based at the UK College of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Medicine and Biochemistry. The center represents a collaborative effort to advance translational research and improve the diagnosis and treatment of Lafora’s disease, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.

The center, which is funded by an NIH Program Project Grant, provides a framework for uniting multidisciplinary researchers in conducting important research exploring the molecular mechanisms that underlie Lafora’s disease.

The team comprises distinguished basic science researchers from around the world, including Gentry, a professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at UK, Joan Guinovart in Barcelona, Spain; Berge Minassian of the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, Canada; Peter Roach of Indiana University; and Jose Serratosa of Autonoma University of Madrid in Madrid, Spain.

“It is an amazing opportunity to lead this group of distinguished scientists from around the world towards such an important goal,” Gentry said. “Each of us have worked independently for more than a decade on Lafora’s disease and this grant now brings us together to develop the first cure for an epilepsy.”

Learn more about the Lafora’s disease and Gentry’s efforts to find a cure.

Educating Kentucky on cancer, one child at a time

Standing in front of a group of rowdy young children, Eastern Kentucky native Melissa Hounshell only has to do one thing to grab their attention – bring out Mr. Gross Mouth.

Melissa Hounshell

Melissa Hounshell

Aptly named, Mr. Gross Mouth is a prop set of teeth and gums beleaguered by various medical problems caused by smoking and/or poor hygiene – rotting teeth, tongue cancer, lesions and more. The kids excitedly voice their shock and disgust as Hounshell runs through all the bad habits that might lead to such a set of teeth in real life.

“Kids love how shockingly gross ‘he’ really is,” Hounshell said. “Especially the tongue. They love to pass around the tongue!”

As the UK Markey Cancer Center’s community outreach director, Hounshell spends her days traveling the state, partnering with businesses and programs in local communities to raise awareness and educate the public about cancer risk factors and screenings.

One of her latest endeavors is a youth outreach program called Get Fit, Be Smart, Don’t Start. Using eye-catching props like Mr. Gross Mouth, it’s geared toward educating young children and encouraging them to take an interest in their parents’ health in addition to their own.

In a region where many adults avoid cancer screenings out of fear of what they might find, Hounshell notes the importance of getting children involved.

“We feel like it’s really important to work with children in the state,” she said. “What we’re really trying to do is reach that younger population and change that mindset, to make them understand the importance and value of health and wellness throughout their lives, not just when they’re 40, 50, 60 years old.”

Kids from the Winchester YMCA examine several of the health-related props that Hounshell brings along to her visits.

Overall, the youth program emphasizes a healthy lifestyle encompassing a good diet, staying active, avoiding smoking and tobacco products, and even the dangers of distracted driving. But considering Kentucky’s No. 1 ranking in both cancer incidence and mortality in the country, the likelihood of these children having some connection to cancer in their family is high, and Hounshell hopes her message of prevention sinks in.

“I encourage kids many times to go and talk with their parents or grandparents about either stopping smoking or getting mammograms or colonoscopies, because so many times a child can ask someone to do something and they’ll do it,” Hounshell said. “Whereas if a physician says, ‘It’s time for your mammogram,’ the patient might ignore it. But if her granddaughter comes and says, ‘You know, you really need to have a mammogram,’ she may listen.”

A personal perspective

Hounshell’s passion for cancer education comes from a very personal place. An only child, she saw both parents suffer from cancer, with her father – a smoker – succumbing to lung cancer just 11 weeks after diagnosis. Her mother, a nonsmoker, later battled breast cancer, celebrating six years of survival this month.

“This is very personal to me, it’s not just a job,” Hounshell said. “That’s why I work at Markey. Because I understand – I truly understand – the value of a wonderful cancer center, but I also understand how harsh cancer can be.”

Markey’s outreach program as a whole has one overarching goal: to reduce cancer rates in the state. Though it will take more time and a lot of data to see the program’s overall success, Hounshell says every small positive anecdote that gets back to her keeps her driven: a middle-schooler who saw how much tar goes into the body from a half pack of cigarettes a day and vowed to ask her grandmother to quit; an older man who picked up a free Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) at a Markey screening event that led to the discovery and treatment of a pre-cancerous polyp; the countless young children who have pledged to ask their parents not to text and drive.

“It’s not necessarily about the big numbers, but a change in mentality,” Hounshell said. “It’s more about the long-term impact, maybe in 10 years we look back and can say, ‘These kids have helped change the way we think about cancer.'”

Check out our Q&A with Melissa about colon cancer screening.

Much of Hounshell’s travels have taken her to the eastern half of the state, where the cancer rates are particularly dire. However, with the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network growing and expanding into Western Kentucky, she’s prepared to travel anywhere in Kentucky to improve cancer education and offer information on screenings to those who need it.

“I work with a lot of affiliate partners, but you don’t have to be an affiliate with our screening and outreach program,” she said. “I’ll partner with anybody as long as they’re passionate about getting Kentuckians screened for cancer.”


Next steps:

Dr. Matthew Bush, cochlear implant

UK doctor working to bring cochlear implant access, gift of hearing to Appalachia

The first time Dr. Matthew Bush observed a cochlear implant surgery, he was a young medical student from West Virginia visiting the University of Kentucky. He describes that experience as eye opening for him and ear opening for the patient.

Dr. Matthew Bush

Dr. Matthew Bush

To witness function restored to an ear that was otherwise lost, sparked not only an intense interest in hearing health care, but also the desire to offer people with profound hearing loss their best hope of re-entering a hearing world and a better quality of life through cochlear implantation.

Hearing loss affects about 48 million people in the United States. More than 694,000 of those people live in Kentucky. In older Americans, hearing loss is the third most common chronic public health problem after heart disease and arthritis.

Bush, now associate professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at UK HealthCare, has come full circle to lead the cochlear implant program at the very place he received his first exposure to the miracle of what cochlear implants can do for people whose hearing has declined to the point that even the most sophisticated of hearing aids can’t help.

As a physician, surgeon, teacher and researcher, he knows his mission is much more encompassing than treating the people who come to him.

“There are people who don’t even realize they have hearing loss and parents who don’t realize that their children have hearing loss, putting them at great risk for developmental delays, which can have negative consequences that will impact the rest of their lives,” Bush said.

Targeting Appalachia

There are people who have never heard about cochlear implants, and something even more concerning to Bush, there are people, particularly in rural Appalachia where he was born and raised, who don’t have the resources or ability to travel long distances to receive the help they desperately need in order to hear.

Bush’s rigorous research agenda at UK includes multiple ongoing studies, all with the main goal of developing methods to provide Kentuckians of all ages with a timely diagnosis and access to hearing health care. His most current study targets health disparities that exist between people in Appalachian areas and those in urban areas. Previous studies demonstrate that not only is hearing loss more prevalent in rural regions, but the time an individual becomes aware of hearing loss to actually receiving care, is double that of their urban counterparts. Many people with profound hearing loss are likely candidates for cochlear implants but their use of them is quite low.

Bush hypothesizes that an innovative and effective way to reach rural Kentuckians from UK is through the use of telemedicine, videoconference technology that connects health care providers in one location to the patient in another. They can see and hear each other, just as if they were in the same room.

In his current study, Bush will evaluate the hearing of patients from rural areas at the UK ENT Morehead location through the use of telemedicine to determine cochlear implant candidacy. The patient will sit in front of a specially designed computerized remote hearing cart with a computer screen. There, the patient will see and interact with UK audiologist Meg Adkins, who is working with Bush on this project. Adkins will perform the hearing evaluation from her office in Lexington.

The patient hears the test through calibrated headphones or a calibrated speaker connected to the audiometer. The audiometer is controlled remotely by Adkins. Patients will hear Adkins either through the headphones or a separate speaker attached to the cart designed for consultation. They see each other by using video conferencing technology.

For purposes of the study, Bush and a team of multidisciplinary providers will compare remote hearing evaluations with in-person evaluations to assess the practicality and cost assessing cochlear implant candidacy through this method. The success of his research will potentially impact existing health disparities by extending UK’s reach into Appalachian areas and expanding access to care for people who might not otherwise have the ability, or the resources, to travel a long distance to UK’s medical campus.

“Our primary goal is that we can achieve diagnostic assessment via telemedicine that is identical in accuracy to those obtained in the clinic so the patient has no concerns about the quality of their service,” Adkins said. “But our telemedicine team has also worked very hard to ensure we can produce such a high quality audio and video interaction, that patients feel just as comfortable with their remote appointment as they would have felt with an in-person session. We hope to demonstrate that cochlear implant assessment via telemedicine can be perceived as warm and interesting, as opposed to cool and clinical. If we achieve that, we then have the basis for building rapport and trusting relationships with our distance patients.”

Lifelong mission

Since the time he first observed a cochlear implant surgery, Bush has immersed himself into the study of a how one tiny electronic device implanted behind the ear and just under the skin, will allow a nearly deaf individual to hear and interpret sounds and speech. Restored hearing can potentially impact every aspect of a person’s life, both physically and emotionally. For a child living in a world of near silence, the impact is even more striking.

“My first cochlear implant patient here at UK was a child who had suddenly lost their hearing as a complication of meningitis. That child was unable to interact or communicate with family and there was a definite sense of urgency that I shared with the family and our cochlear implant team,” Bush said. After a successful operation and the programming of the device, that child was brought back into the world of listening without skipping a beat.

“The joy of seeing that child regain function and quality of life further reinforced my desire to improve hearing and provide hearing health care for other patients in similar situations,” Bush said.

This current work in telemedicine demonstrates that commitment to transform delivery of hearing health care, he said. Access to hearing specialists through telemedicine could influence patients’ readiness to seek further treatment for their hearing loss.

“Connecting cochlear implant specialists with patients with hearing loss in remote locations for the delivery of education regarding hearing loss treatments, diagnostic testing, and counseling regarding cochlear implantation represents an important step to deliver the most advanced medicine to patients,” Bush said.


Next steps:

  • Could a cochlear implant help you or someone who know? Learn more about our program.
  • The cochlear implant program is part of UK Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery department. Find out more about our comprehensive care related to the ear, nose and throat.
Dr. Sean Skinner teaches surgery basics to first-graders

My experience teaching surgery to first-graders

Written by Dr. Sean Skinner, pediatric surgeon at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Sean Skinner

Dr. Sean Skinner

Not many first-grade science curriculums include hands-on surgical training, but that’s exactly the lesson I taught to my daughter’s class earlier this year.

As a pediatric surgeon, I had the opportunity to talk with my daughter and her first-grade peers at Sayre School in Lexington as part of a larger lesson about machines in workplaces. When she mentioned to her teacher, Mrs. Angela Hardin,  that I “worked with machines and robots at the hospital,” Mrs. Hardin offered me the opportunity to share my experiences with the class.

What followed was an exploration of surgery seen through the eyes of first-graders. I showed them the tools I use on a daily basis and fit them for surgical masks. I then explained to them that laparoscopy is a kind of surgery where we make very small cuts and perform the procedure with the assistance of a small camera that goes inside of a person’s body.

With the basics out of the way, the real fun started. The kids got to try their hands at the same laparoscopic training machines we use at the hospital. Using surgical tools attached to a camera and monitor, they performed a short drill of picking up beads from one cup and moving them to another. It didn’t take long for them to realize just how hard it is to use the instruments while watching a monitor at the same time.

I had a blast seeing how excited the kids were to use the simulators and answering all of their questions about surgery and being a doctor.

Pediatric surgery is no doubt a complicated subject for first-graders, but I think it’s important for children to learn about as many different careers as possible. Through activities like the one at my daughter’s school, kids are able to see what their parents and what other parents do.

I think it would be great to do this type of presentation and hands-on learning activity with more classrooms in Lexington and bring it to different age groups. The more topics children are exposed to at a young age, the better.

Of course, I think learning about science is important for all students and doing so at an early age could spur their interest in science and medicine going forward.

And who knows, maybe an activity like this could spark the next great scientist of the future.


Next steps: