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Duke Surgery and Durham Nativity School Partner to Train Future Surgeons

Monday, October 5, 2015
By Brooke Walker, Department of Surgery
Students from the Durham Nativity School pose in a group photo wearing surgical scrubs, masks, and gloves

Students from the Durham Nativity School recently participated in a unique, hands-on surgical skills workshop as part of a new educational outreach program from the Duke Department of Surgery.

The Academic Success Through Surgical Education and Training (ASSET) program aims to foster high achievement in science through surgical education for financially disadvantaged students at the Nativity School.

“There is exceptional talent shrouded in poverty,” says Dr. Linda Cendales, Associate Professor of Surgery and one of the program leaders. “We will all benefit if we can lift that shroud and expose the talent. Duke Surgery is internationally recognized as one of the leading surgery programs worldwide. We are also here to serve our community. Serving our community in this way is one of the things that grounds us.” 

Founded in 2002 by former Chief of Trauma Surgery Dr. Joseph Moylan, the Durham Nativity School is a tuition-free middle school for boys from low-income families in the local community. Dr. Moylan established the school to enable underprivileged boys to achieve academic excellence through a robust, comprehensive 11-year educational program beginning in middle school through the completion of college. As a result of this program, 82% of Nativity School graduates attend college.

The Duke Department of Surgery has partnered with the Nativity School in providing career mentorship and educational assistance to nurture the students’ intellectual curiosity and to prepare them for medical school, residency, and beyond. One aspect of the ASSET program focuses on empowerment, modeling, and career orientation, while another aspect offers anatomy, simulation, and surgical workshops for the students.

"There is exceptional talent shrouded in poverty. We will all benefit if we can lift that shroud and expose the talent."

-Linda Cendales, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, ASSET Program Leader

Anatomy and Surgical Skills Workshop

The first Anatomy and Surgical Skills workshop was held Wednesday, September 30, in an operating room in the animal vivarium on Duke’s medical research campus. Students learned about the rigorous hygiene practices that surgeons undergo to prepare for surgery, including scrubbing in, surgical gowning, gloving, and applying the surgical mask, shoe covers, and cap, followed by the proper handling of surgical instruments.

Using swine paws, the students received instruction on the correct techniques for making incisions into the skin with a scalpel, suturing the incisions with a suture needle and thread, and tying surgical knots. The students then took turns suturing the skin while an instructor provided guidance. The students quickly learned the suturing technique, and at one point, several students began timing each other in a competition for the fastest muscle repair.

Following the suturing skills session, the instructors dissected the paws to teach the students about the anatomical structure of the paw. Definitely the highlight of the workshop, the dissection session was peppered with emphatic “whoa’s” from the students when they discovered a new, fascinating part of the anatomy, such as how the muscle connects to the tendon and moves a joint.

“It is much more meaningful to them to pull on a tendon and see it work than to look at a diagram or listen to a description,” says Mary Anderson, the student’s science teacher.

“The students got to experience a true laboratory setting and were able to work with materials not available to us normally. The expertise of the surgeons leading the groups and the excellent instructor-to-student ratio also cannot be replicated at school. It was a wonderful first experience with dissecting that will enhance their ability to learn from later dissections at school.” 

In addition to surgery and anatomy, the students will learn about biologic systems, such as the cardiac system, at the Duke simulation lab where surgical residents undergo training. The second surgical skills workshop is currently planned for 2016.

“Each morning the young men of Durham Nativity School recite a creed that begins, ‘As DNS Men, we will… Dare to Dream Big,’” says Dan Vannelle, Head of the Durham Nativity School.

“The mission of our school is to prepare and position these young men to fulfill their biggest dreams. Spending a day experiencing the ASSET workshop fueled dreams and opened the eyes of our young men to the real possibility of one day becoming a surgeon. We are grateful to Duke Surgery for investing in and making a difference in the lives of these young men.”  


Visit the Durham Nativity School website to learn more about the school.

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