Dr. Martin Martino is a Gynecologic Oncologist and Robotic Surgeon with Ascension St. Vincent's Health System in Jacksonville, Florida. For the past nine years, he has been organizing Healthcare Explorers Day, sponsored by the Institute for Surgical Excellence (www.surgicalexcellence.org), which originally sought to inspire schoolchildren to consider careers in healthcare by bringing them into hospitals to experience the medical profession in action. This all changed during COVID, when, as Dr. Martino explains, Proximie became integral to the program’s survival…
Originally we would see 60 to 80 middle school students a year, bringing them to hospitals where they could see the work that takes place, so that they would hopefully become inspired to pursue careers in healthcare. During COVID, however, we had to flip the script by taking the Healthcare Explorers Days into schools, essentially turning elementary school gymnasiums into mini-hospitals.
That’s when Proximie became involved, making it possible for us to create immersive demonstrations of healthcare procedures, delivered directly to students, families and communities via their schools. The process and experience of this new way of involving the children has been really outstanding.
The usual form a Healthcare Explorers Day would take - in the absence of Proximie - would be similar to an event we held this year called Operation Hero. A group of seventh and eighth grade students - 13 to 14 years old - walked from Riverside Elementary School to Ascension St. Vincent’s Hospital, where the students were split into four teams, after which they visited a number of stations in rotation. At one station they would receive a lecture about how the heart and its valves work, and then actually go into a cardiology catheterization suite. At the second station they see a mobile van that delivers dental care to the community. At the third, they gain an insight into robotic surgery, and experience the 3D vision and wrist articulation. And then finally, they see a surgical suite where they learn how every device works and speak with our nurses and pharmaceutical partners to understand the technology.
With Proximie, we were able to bring these experiences into schools.
The first time we were able to do this was at an event in Allentown, Pennsylvania at the St. Thomas More Elementary School during COVID 2021; we had a Syndaver - a synthetic, lifelike cadaver - and performed an operation on it. Proximie enabled us to stream the operation and give students an immersive viewpoint of expert surgeons in action from all over the world, including in heart surgery, esophageal surgery and trauma surgery. The students were able to interact with all of this because of the technology provided by Proximie.
In 2022, we were in Ponte Vedra, Florida, where we converted the Palmer Catholic School into a Healthcare Explorers Day station. One of the exciting things we were able to do on this occasion was connect with some of the amazing surgeons in the world including Dr Caitlin Houghton from the University of South Florida and Dr Sharon’s Ross from Advent Health in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Caitlin Houghton gave a great lecture to the students about health, wellness, and balance – and then took them out to the surf where she rode some waves with them while streaming. Dr. Ross took the students through a small portion of a Robotic Whipple – teaching, lecturing, and explaining each step of the way. We found it was so important to let the kids know you can have a well-balanced life and career in this profession.
We were also lucky enough to receive a live talk from Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram - the founder of Proximie – who was able to speak to the students directly through Proximie!
I was in front of the schoolchildren and their eyes light up as she appeared on the screen, instantly and seamlessly, communicating with us all the way from London. It was remarkable, and she gave an incredibly inspiring talk to the students about having the courage to dream, and the vision to help make that dream a reality. She told the students about how she’d wanted to help patients all over the world, and then worked with colleagues to develop the technology behind Proximie.
All of these events were excellent demonstrations of the benefits of the multiple camera angles and views that Proximie makes possible on a single screen. As a result, the students gained a great understanding of how this might translate to real-life surgery, in terms of being able to see what’s going on in different areas of the operating room, and viewing the entirety of the procedure from a number of angles within the ecosystem of the surgical procedure. At the same time, the bi-directional communication enabled students to interact with whoever was talking to them, in the same way that a surgeon would be able to interact with an expert providing guidance remotely, for example. It gave students different perspectives - not just of the surgical procedure, but of what the future of surgery might look like as well.
Healthcare Explorers Day is a great way for middle school and high school students to think differently about science, about school, and hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in healthcare. At this time in their academic curriculum, they’re often learning about human anatomy and physiology; Healthcare Explorers Day allows them to see this knowledge played out on another scale, and get a sense of how it might be put into practice.
Proximie has been a great partner with the Institute for Surgical Excellence’s Healthcare Explorers Day to help show students that they can achieve anything they want to if they put their mind to it, while also greatly expanding the breadth of ideas and experiences we have been able to show them.