Gynecologic surgeons who trained in the early 1990s may feel that the practice of gynecologic surgery seemed simpler back then. There were really only 2 ways to perform a hysterectomy: vaginally (TVH—total vaginal hysterectomy) and abdominally (TAH—total abdominal hysterectomy). Global endometrial ablation devices were not an established treatment for abnormal uterine bleeding, and therapeutic advancements such as hormonally laden intrauterine devices, vaginal mesh kits, and surgical robots did not exist. The options in the surgical toolbox were limited, and the general expectation in residency was long hours. During that period, consistent exposure to the operating room and case volume allowed one to graduate confidant in one’s surgical skills.
The changing landscape of gynecologic surgery
Fast-forward to 2017. Now, so many variables affect the ability to produce a well-trained gynecologic surgeon. In fact, in 2015 Guntupalli and colleagues studied the preparedness of ObGyn residents for fellowship training in the 4 subspecialties of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, and reproductive endocrinology-infertility.1 Through a validated survey of fellowship program directors, the authors found that only 20% of first-year fellows were able to perform a vaginal hysterectomy independently, and 46%, an abdominal hysterectomy. Barely 50% of first-year fellows in all subspecialties studied could independently set up a retractor for laparotomy and appropriately pack and mobilize the bowel for pelvic surgery.1
Today the hysterectomy procedure has become the proverbial alphabet soup. Trainees are confronted with having to learn not only the TVH and the TAH but also the LAVH (laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy), LSH (laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy), TLH (total laparoscopic hysterectomy), and RALH (robot-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy).2 With a mandated 80-hour residency workweek restriction and an increasing number of minimally invasive hysterectomies performed nationally, a perfect storm exists for critically evaluating the current paradigm of resident and fellow surgical training.3
One may wonder if current controversies surrounding many of the technologic advancements in gynecologic surgery result from inadequate training and too many treatment options or from flaws in the actual devices. A “see one, do one, teach one” approach to assimilating surgical skills is no longer an accepted approach, and although the “10,000-hour rule” of focused practice to attain expertise makes sense, how can a trainee gain enough exposure to achieve competency?
Simulation: A creditable training tactic
This is where simulation—whether low or high fidelity—potentially can fill in some of those training gaps. Simulation in medicine is a proven instructional design strategy in which learning is an active and experiential process. Studies clearly have shown that simulation-based medical education (SBME) with deliberate practice is superior to traditional clinical medical education in achieving specific clinical skill acquisition goals.4
This special Update on minimally invasive gynecologic surgery offers a 30,000-foot overview of the current state of simulation in gynecologic surgical training. Equally important to this conversation is the process by which a trained individual can obtain the appropriate credentials and subsequent privileging to perform various surgical procedures. Simulation has begun to play a significant role not only in an individual’s initial credentialing and privileging in surgery but also in maintaining those privileges.