The Utility of an Open-Access Surgical Simulator to Enhance Surgeon Training

Background: Smile Train, an international children’s charity committed to improving cleft care around the world, empowers local medical professionals in developing countries to provide quality comprehensive cleft care in their own communities. As part of their sustainable model, Smile Train developed a web-based, interactive virtual simulator to improve surgical training of cleft procedures for surgeons around the world, replicating the anatomical and technical steps involved in cleft surgery. This study evaluated the simulator as a tool for enhancing surgical training.

Methods: A pre-test and questionnaire addressing cleft care, surgical knowledge, and confidence level was administered to surgeons-in-training at an academic institution. Participants completed 3 simulator modules followed by a post-test and questionnaire to measure changes in knowledge and confidence levels.

Results: Sixteen surgeons-in-training participated in this study. The mean score on the knowledge examination increased after reviewing the modules for both junior residents (33.1%-64.4%) and senior residents (46.9%-70.8%). Reviewing the modules increased participants’ confidence in the knowledge of cleft anatomy, understanding of surgical procedures, and ability to follow along meaningfully while assisting in operations.

Conclusions: The Smile Train Virtual Surgery Simulator increased knowledge and reported surgeon confidence in understanding and assisting in cleft lip surgery, signifying its usefulness as a training tool for surgeons-in-training. Virtual simulation is a valuable resource for improving understanding and competence of the craniofacial surgeon while serving as an educational resource to other members of the comprehensive cleft care team, patients, and families.