how do med students practice surgery? (Try-At-Home Examples!)

You might already know that med students aren’t allowed to do most of the stuff that qualified doctors get to do. As a patient, you’re probably thankful for that!

So, how do medical students practice surgery?

Students mainly practice with their own surgical training kits and tutorials. Techniques can be improved via practice using silicon mats or pads, fruits and even pigs feet. From there, students then train, under supervision, in the operating rooms on surgery rotations doing very small and minor procedures.

It’s never the case that they learn just by diving in!

In this article we’ll look at exactly how this works. We’ll cover:

  • How you can improve your surgical skills
  • How you can master suturing (a key surgical skill)
  • What it’s like practicing on fruit and pig’s feet

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

Graduating from student to surgeon

Surgeons, like all specialised doctors, first start out as medical students.

Over time, and with increased exposure to things like cadaver dissections etc., they then might begin to develop the idea of going into surgery. And dream of one day operating on humans!

How do students practice and get a taste of what’s required for the job beforehand?

Here’s how it mainly works:

  • We research techniques
  • Buy a basic surgery kit
  • Find something as close to human flesh to fiddle with!

It’s really quite simple…

How to Improve Surgical Skills

The main mantra those inside medicine hear all the time is; “see one, do one, teach one”.

At its essence? This is exactly how people (med students included) improve their surgical skills.

The first step involves seeking out instruction. Traditionally, as you’ll see reading how the great surgeons learn (check out David Nott’s War Surgeon on my recommendation page), most of this used to happen through books. But now it happens more through video.

The YouTube channel MDprospect, for example, is a great place to start.

Here is the first video in a four part series on basic surgical techniques for medical students.

This series also highlights the main areas to get started on as someone interested in picking up the ropes; suturing and knot-tying.

Learn what surgical tools you need

Before you get started here though it’s first a good idea to familiarise yourself with the common surgical tools.

That way you’ll know exactly which of the instruments books or videos like this are referencing. That’s important if you’re looking to progress fast!

This video from Surgical Tech explains what these major instruments are. As well as when they’re likely to be used.

Keep practicing (duh!)

Aside from these starting points the next best way to improve is to practice.

Follow these free courses and tutorials. Then practice with your own set of instruments on objects that are easily accessible (and ethically sound).

A little bit of practice each week is sufficient starting out!

How to Improve Suturing Skills

The first time I ever tried suturing was actually on a live patient under the supervision of a orthopedic surgeon (specializing in hands) in the UK. As the patient was under general anesthetic – having undergone open carpal tunnel surgery – they didn’t have to put up with my hopeless pacing. Not to mention my nervous trembling!

I’d wish I’d done the following beforehand…

Watch videos on how to close wounds

Improving your suturing is one of the more fundamental ways to improve your general surgical skills and get good fast.

Closing a wound is something all surgeons must be skilled at. So taking the time to master it while in med school can really be of benefit. Especially as it’s easy to practice too.

The best way to learn is by following instructional video guides.

Buck Parker has a good series showing just this. Here’s the first in the series which drives home the main points; forceps finger placement, hand positioning, action etc.

Notice how he advocates using your own suture kit, thread and practice silicon pad. You can pick each of these up on Amazon quite inexpensively. Here’s a link to the set I personally own that’s pretty much identical to that used in the video.

Personally, I feel silicon pads are the best option of all on this list. They’re non-messy, maintain their shape and mimic the look and feel of skin pretty well.

This is more than enough to get any med student started!

How to Practice Surgery Skills on Fruit

Soft fruits like bananas and oranges are surprisingly good objects to practice suturing and knot-tying with. They’re also inexpensive too.

How to suture on orange

Here’s a video showing you how can you go about doing this after making a couple of incisions on an orange. Dr Chris also explains the purpose of suturing in wound repair too. Simulating as if he’s working on a living, breathing patient!

Notice how Dr Chris gives lots of practical surgical tips here? This video also explains knot-tying techniques like stick tying too. It’s well worth watching all 20 minutes plus of this video.

How to suture a banana

Likewise, here’s a shorter video on how it can work on a banana.

The purpose of using fruits is that they are tough but pliable enough to take a needle and a thread while enabling you to practice correct hand placement, wrist rotation and instrument use etc.

A great alternative to the silicon suture practice pads mentioned before.

Using Pigs Feet for Suturing

Pigs feet can be picked up at local butchers or supermarket counters and also make for great surgical training apparatus.

Unlike fruits and practice pads, they’re a bit closer to real life surgery.

Using them to practice obviously has a couple of downsides though.

  1. They’re more expensive than a piece of fruit
  2. Depending where you stand ethically, they could be argued to be quite unnecessary!

There’s also the issue of the smell once you’re done practicing.

Anyway, to understand what I’m talking about here’s a video showing how this can work…

See how the suturing technique explained is basically the same as those in the instructional videos before?

The basic process is the same; give or take a couple of personal flourishes!

Summary

Practising surgery techniques doesn’t need to be complicated. You can start at any stage of your education.

All you need is a needle, holder, forceps and thread. As well as something to cut and suture that’s not a real patient.

Some of the suggestions above? Perfect in that regard!