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Exploring the Final Frontier of Surgery
Q&A with Augustus 'Gus' Mazzocca, MD, FAAOS, FAOA, orthopedic surgeon, educator, researcher and cautious adopter of new technology.
Publish Date: April 19, 2022   |  Tags:   Healthcare IT Opinion Staff Training and Education Orthopedics
You run UConn Health’s Bioskills Lab. How does the program advance the skills of surgeons in training?
It’s a fully operational, six-station lab that allows residents and attending surgeons to work on complex orthopedic and spine cases on cadaveric specimens. The lab is equipped with full-size monitors that project arthroscopic views of surgery at an attending’s teaching station. Plus, we recently added virtual reality training and education modules that allow residents to practice and review cases multiple times. This technology also allows instructors like me to connect via computer and see exactly what the residents are seeing and how they’re reacting to various situations. From an educational standpoint, the lab gives our students, many of whom don’t have the opportunity to participate in high-level cases, the chance to perform complex procedures over and over again until they’re comfortable with the techniques.

How has technology impacted the way you approach surgery? 
I was around during the mainstream adoption of arthroscopic surgery, something that pushed the bar forward in terms of our ability to operate on various joints without causing major damage. Since then, the cameras have steadily become better and smaller, as have the pumps and light sources. These improvements have made us better surgeons, and ultrasound-guided nerve blocks coupled with multimodal analgesia allow patients to have surgery with far less pain. Now we’re making great strides with virtual and augmented reality for the positioning of implants. This technology allows us to train surgeons who may not have great natural three-dimensional spatial recognition abilities to improve in a shorter timeframe. Of course, the aviation industry and the space program have been using this technology for decades.

How did your time with NASA impact your surgical career?
I wasn’t even a doctor yet, but NASA showed me the capabilities we have to invent, create and problem-solve. I witnessed how the space program prepared astronauts to survive in orbit. I saw how scientists would train constantly on every kind of issue you could ever imagine, every type of scenario that could take place in a space shuttle. They also trained and prepared for every possible scenario that could arise from the inventions they were working on. That prepare-for-anything approach to problem-solving has stayed with me in the OR.

Are you an early adopter of surgical technology?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m not the first in line to use emerging tech, but if there’s research to back it, I have no problem adopting. If you ask my family or my colleagues if I’m a techie, they’d absolutely say I’m not. I had a pager until the end, and it still hurts me that the BlackBerry went under. OSM