Coming to you live from the operating room

Surgery Live! sparks interest in medical careers among young people

Dr. Eric Pauli shares a photo with registered nurse Kiersten Marie before Surgery Live! in November 2019. Credit: Penn State Health / Penn StateCreative Commons

Kiersten Marie remembers leaning in closer to observe the gastric bypass surgery going on right before her eyes – it was that moment that solidified her desire for a career in medicine.

“I loved watching ‘Untold Stories of the ER,’ but to actually see surgery in real time with no editing was so cool,” said Marie, who was a senior at Carlisle High School when her biology class attended a Surgery Live! presentation, featuring a surgical team at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center broadcast to Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg.

She went on to become a registered nurse, earning her associate degree from Harrisburg Area Community College.

Dr. Gerald Harkins narrates a procedure during a live presentation of Surgery Live! Credit: Penn State Health / Penn StateCreative Commons

Now a graduate nurse in the perioperative program at Penn State College of Medicine, Marie was assisting in a surgery by Dr. Eric Pauli in November 2019, when the Penn State Health Surgery Specialties doctor tweeted about her – calling her a shining example of what those who participate in the Surgery Live! Program are hoping to achieve.

“Kiersten is the perfect story of how the loop is closed,” Pauli said. “For me, Surgery Live! is a little remote because I never get to meet the people who are there learning from me. But here is one of those people in the OR with me – an amazing example of why we do what we do.”

The aim of Surgery Live!, funded by the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Whitaker Center and Highmark Blue Shield, is to stimulate interest in medical careers among middle and high school students.

Hershey Medical Center began showing live surgeries to Penn State College of Medicine students in a surgery interest group when Dr. Peter Dillon was chair of the Department of Surgery.

When Whitaker Center expressed interest in starting Surgery Live! for high school students, Dillon said it was a natural fit.

“We had the right technology, the right capabilities and a common mission to expose students to areas of science,” said Dillon, Penn State Health executive vice president and chief clinical officer. “The medical field can be mysterious, and certainly the OR can be viewed as off-limits, but we can show how a whole team works together to carry out a surgery. That’s great for potential career development.”

Dr. Peter Dillon accepts an award on behalf of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Surgery Live’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2018. Credit: Penn State Health / Penn StateCreative Commons

The partnership has been a perfect fit, said Ted Black, Whitaker Center president and CEO.

“If you can impact one or several lives to get someone inspired to do something professionally, that fits squarely with our mission of getting kids interested in STEM and medicine,” he said. “The doctors are what make it engaging. It takes a special group of doctors who are willing to perform their surgeries live and talk to students while doing it. These doctors have inspired so many kids.”

Pauli remembers back in 2007 when he was a lab resident and relayed questions from College of Medicine students to the surgeons. A subsequent survey revealed that the surgery broadcast enhanced students’ interest in surgical careers.

“We know we have people who have gone into medicine because of Surgery Live!” Pauli said. “This is so important because with our aging population, we need more people in the medical field. This is an extremely simple way to get people immediately invested.”

Since it began, more than 15,000 students from some 70 schools across the state have watched gallbladder removal, laparoscopic gastric bypass, laparoscopic hysterectomy and various other endoscopic, gastric and urological surgeries.

Surgery Live! now takes place in Select Medical Digital Cinema on its 40-foot screen, offering a truly larger-than-life experience.

In advance of their trip to Whitaker Center, students receive a packet of information so they can learn about the type of surgery they will see. A video shown before the live feed features interviews with doctors and nurses telling about their jobs, the education required and why they like what they do.

Marie said watching Surgery Live! is a good test for would-be medical students.

“If you watch it and you don’t feel like passing out, you should pursue your interest,” she said. “Preparing for a medical career is a lot of hard work, but at the end of the tunnel, it’s very fulfilling.”

Last Updated January 15, 2020