Park City CAPS students meet ‘Moose,’ a robotic surgeon of the future operating now

Park City High School physical therapy students this week got an up close and hands-on experience with the Intermountain Park City Hospital’s new da Vinci XI surgical system.

The kids were able to try out the machine on various puzzles to see its computer-precision and dexterity first hand.

The system — nicknamed “Moose” by hospital staff who determined its arms look like antlers — arrived three months ago. Since then, it’s already been used in 60 operations.

Katherine Smiley, a general surgeon at the hospital, spoke about how the partnership between humans and robot can benefit the surgeons as well as their patients.

“Our da Vinci robot kind of combines the best of two different surgical techniques, so it gives us the precision and ability to operate as if we were doing traditional open surgery with a big incision,” Smiley said. “The instruments can bend 360 degrees, so we can stitch, we can dissect as well as we could have with a traditional open big incision. However, we’re operating through tiny incisions, so the patient has less pain, less discomfort, less bruising, less risk for developing a hernia down the road.”

Lest anyone raise a speculative eyebrow toward Moose when thinking about possible sci-fi implications, Smiley added that the robot is not able to operate independently but requires the knowledge of a flesh-and-blood surgeon.

Todd Whitehead, the hospital’s robot coordinator, demonstrated how this works as he angled Moose’s long, joint-ridden arms into small holes in a rounded cover to pick up, examine and drop items, something that would have been nearly impossible with a human arm unless the holes were considerably larger.

“Less wear and tear on the tissue, less wear and tear on the muscle,” Whitehead said, explaining how the difference benefits those who undergo surgery. “Patients are up and out of bed earlier.”

Whitehead explained that the tool can be used in the removal of organs as well as in the treatment of hernias.

“Right now, I have four surgeons that do robotic surgery here,” he said.


Based on the faces of the high school students operating the machine’s robotic arms, that number may increase dramatically when the class enters the work force.

The physical therapy class is one of many in the high school’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies program.

The class teacher, Meagan Shaw, said she’s been hard at work to offer her classes more hands-on experiences like the one they had with Moose.

“We restructured the entire program this year,” Shaw said. “Students will be participating in a traditional curriculum in the fall, and then in the spring they will have clinical rotations, enrichment opportunities, and they will be completing a class research project.”

She also spoke about the benefits hands-on learning can have for students, considering what future careers they might want to pursue.

“I think that schooling has really changed in the last decade, and we have seen so much research coming out of experiential learning,” she said. “Students are learning to grasp professions a lot quicker because the world is changing so quickly, and they need to be able to pick up on the latest and greatest so quickly.”

Hands-on learning, she explained, will prepare them better than teaching about fields in a purely theoretical way.

Several students agreed with her.

“I think it’s so cool,” said Emily Manilla, a student who plans to work in physical therapy. “Being able to do a little interactive activity shows you how intense and complex this machine is, and how new and exciting it’s going to be for the world of medicine.”

She spoke highly of Moose’s precision, something she wouldn’t personally understand had the lesson been a lecture in a classroom. Manilla said she has a harder time gathering information that way.

She said she didn’t quite feel ready to operate on anyone, but she was happy to have met Moose rather than only reading about it.

The original article from the Park Record can be found here.