Limited access to adequate cancer surgery training is one of the driving forces behind global inequities in surgical cancer care. Affordable virtual reality (VR) surgical training could enhance surgical skills in low- and middle-income settings, but most VR and augmented reality systems are too expensive and do not teach open surgical techniques commonly practiced in these contexts. New low-cost VR can offer skill development simulations relevant to these settings, but little is known about how knowledge is gained and applied by surgeons training and working in specific resource-constrained settings. This study addresses this gap, exploring gynecologic oncology trainee learning and user experience using a low-cost VR simulator to learn to perform an open radical abdominal hysterectomy in Lusaka, Zambia.
Eleven surgical trainees rotating through the gynecologic oncology service were sequentially recruited from the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka to participate in a study evaluating a VR radical abdominal hysterectomy training designed to replicate the experience in a Zambian hospital. Six participated in semi-structured interviews following the training. Interviews were analyzed using open and axial coding, informed by grounded theory.
Simulator participation increased participants’ perception of their surgical knowledge, confidence, and skills. Participants believed their skills transferred to other related surgical procedures. Having clear goals and motivation to improve were described as factors that influenced success.
For cancer surgery trainees in lower-resourced settings learning medical and surgical skills, even for those with limited VR experience, low-cost VR simulators may enhance anatomical knowledge and confidence. The VR simulator reinforced anatomical and clinical knowledge acquired through other modalities. VR-enhanced learning may be particularly valuable when mentored learning opportunities are limited.