Hannah James is a trainee surgeon at Warwick Medical School and an Arthritis Research UK educational research fellow.
What does your work involve?
My research is in the field of surgical training. Did you know that it takes up to 12 years to train surgeons after they qualify from medical school? Previously, trainee surgeons would have spent about 30,000 hours in the operating theatre learning how to perform operations before they became consultants. Currently, that figure stands at around 8,000 hours.
The government has recognised that we need to supplement training in the operating theatre to ensure that tomorrow’s consultant surgeons are trained to the highest possible standards. There is also an important need ensure that in the process of training surgeons, patients are protected.
We believe that trainees should be able to achieve a level of competence in operations before they are allowed to operate on real patients. One way of doing this is to provide a highly realistic experience (known as ‘simulation’) of an operation using donated, deceased human bodies (also known as cadavers). Cadavers have the obvious advantage over other alternatives such as plastic models in that they are the nearest possible substitute to the living patient.
Simulation is already used extensively in other safety-critical professions such as the aviation industry, and surgery lags behind in this respect. A trainee pilot would learn to land a plane for the first time on a flight simulator before being allowed to land a real plane full of passengers!
My research is looking into whether this special type of simulation for surgery helps trainee surgeons to learn operations more effectively and more safely. This study will also help us discover at what point during the long training process it is best to introduce simulation.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I hold an educational research fellowship from Arthritis Research UK. This is funding my PhD at the University of Warwick for three years and started in October 2013.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?
At the time of writing I am just four months into a three-year research programme so the project is still in its infancy. The exciting discovery to come will be whether or not our proposed new type of cadaveric simulation training improves the operating skills of our young surgeons-in-training.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
I hope that my work will have a long-term impact on the surgical training landscape of the UK and that the improvements in training will ultimately benefit arthritis patients.
What do you do in a typical day?
At the moment, a typical day for me is at our research unit at the hospital and involves planning the trial phase of my study, which will start in September.
What is your greatest research achievement?
I would like to be able to answer this question in three years time by saying that my research has helped arthritis patients!
Why did you choose to do this work?
I am an orthopaedic surgeon-in-training with a particular enthusiasm for education, so I have a close personal interest this topic. I am very privileged to have the opportunity, supported by Arthritis Research UK, to undertake a period of full-time research alongside my surgical training.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
The wellbeing of arthritis patients undergoing surgery is at the heart of this research. My work is looking specifically at the training of orthopaedic surgeons, who specialise in performing bone and joint operations. Arthritis patients are by far the biggest group that orthopaedic surgeons treat, for example through joint replacement surgery. In the UK 160,000 joint replacement operations are done every year. Given the large numbers of patients involved, if we can make even a small difference to how well our orthopaedic surgeons are trained, this will lead to potentially significant benefits to arthritis patients.
What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/researcher?
If I wasn’t a surgeon I would have been a kite-boarding instructor living on a fabulous beach somewhere hot.
I recently got married and my new husband and I have spent our time outside of work travelling to pursue our shared passion for surfing and kite-boarding. We are rather landlocked here in Warwickshire so the perfect weekend is a road trip down to Cornwall with the surfboards on the roof (even in January!).