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Liberty Science Center Gives Students a Ringside Seat for Surgery

LSC adds new hospital to popular science program, extends reach to more kids.

Liberty Science Center is expanding a program that lets students and teachers watch live operations transmitted from participating hospitals in real time, posing questions to doctors, nurses, and technicians while they repair hearts and replace kidneys.

In October, Jersey City Medical Center will come on board as a partner in the program. Participating hospitals now include Newark Beth Israel, St. Barnabas, and Morristown and Overlook medical centers.

LSC also plans to add a remote feed this fall, reaching schools that are too far away to bring their classes to the Jersey City museum. The center will be able to link to two schools during each operation, thus multiplying the number of students who get this compelling view of the practice of medicine. (Patients must give their permission, and their identities are kept confidential.)

Paul Hoffman, president of LSC, who spoke Tuesday to the Newark Regional Business Partnership, said the live surgery program has several goals: to teach science to students, to introduce them to careers in scientific fields, and to get them thinking about healthy behavior and lifestyle choices that might enable them to avoid surgery later in life.

"This is spelling-binding for the students. They sit for two and a half hour without fidgeting, because this is real," said Hoffman.

There may be as many as 10 people at work simultaneously in the OR. "We introduce the kids to all the different jobs in the operating theatre, not just the doctors and the nurses but the other jobs, too. You don't have to just aspire to becoming a surgeon, with the enormous training that takes."

Mark Rabson, spokesman for Jersey City Medical Center, said orthopedic surgeon Erika Urqhart will begin presenting her surgery live to the students in October. "This will be great because it's interactive—it's not like watching TV. The students see the interaction among the team, they can ask questions and see how the whole healthcare team fits together."

Dr. John Brennan is chief executive of Newark Beth Israel, which -- along with sister hospital St. Barnabas Medical Center -- presents robotic surgery and kidney transplants to students who are all middle-school age or older. He said the program displays some of the diversity of medical jobs that students can aspire to. While they may be aware of what surgeons, nurses, and X-ray and ultrasound technicians do, they might not know "that there is a science of cleaning instruments, and this is a very high technical need."

Brennan adds that students may watch robotic surgery, "and maybe they don't want to be the surgeon, maybe they want to be the person who services the robot, or the one who helps develop an arm that allows the robot to do something new. It's an amazing field."

Robert Wise is chief executive of Hunterdon Medical Center and chairs the Health Care Workforce Council, which is making recommendation on the state's future needs for health workers to the State Employment and Training Commission. "We really need to identify ways to increase awareness of so many different healthcare careers by new members of the workforce and ways to give improved skills to incumbent healthcare workers so they can see advancement opportunities."

The live video surgery program is funded by contributions from the hospitals involved, as well as Johnson & Johnson and Verizon" said Rosa Catala, director of STEM innovation at LSC.

The program is not open to the general public but is intended for school groups, which spend time in class preparing for their visit to LSC. But a new program coming this fall will be open to the public. Dr. Sarama Friedman, a pediatric orthopedist with Morristown Medical Center, will bring videos of her own surgery to LSC, and lecture while presenting them.

Joe Sweeney, a science teacher at P.S. 11, a middle school in Queens, has been bringing classes to the program for more than a dozen years. He brought his sixth graders to LSC on Tuesday, to witness a live cardiac bypass operation from Morristown Medical Center. "This takes the classroom out into the real world," he said.

Sweeney recalled that two years ago, while walking in Manhattan, a former student recognized him. "He told me he was at NYU Medical School and was going to be a cardiologist. I asked him why and he said, 'Don't you remember, we came to Liberty Science Center and saw a cardiac operation? That triggered me and gave me the incentive -- that was what I wanted to do.'"

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