SI North to Singapore: Surg Comp Takes on WSC 2022

In December of 2022, Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety (CHEPS) staff member Fumiya Abe-Nornes and students Rachel Zhang and Nathan Smith got to experience their dream as research assistants: Presenting at an international conference on their work.

For the last few years, the Surgical Competency project team at CHEPS researched the limitations of current surgical residency training guidelines. At the project’s conception in 2019, Fumiya Abe-Nornes, an undergraduate student studying biophysics at the time, worked closely with fellow CHEPSters and clinical collaborators Drs. Rishindra Reddy, Brian George, and Angela Thelen, to better understand the concern of the readiness of graduating surgeons to independently perform surgeries. With surgical training models implying that learning is a binary measure, that everyone learns at the same rate, and that training opportunities are uniform, the team concluded that failing to consider real world variability may affect the ability of a surgical residency program to achieve desired competency outcomes.

Joined by biomedical engineering student Rachel Zhang and movement science student Nathan Smith, the team built a model that used discrete event simulation to highlight the impact variation in learning speeds and training opportunities could have on the competency of graduating residents. Excited by the findings, Fumiya, Rachel, and Nathan submitted a paper to The Winter Simulation Conference (WSC), an annual conference that invites scientific papers and case studies to highlight innovations in both theory and applications in the world of simulation. When the team was notified of their acceptance in the fall of 2022, the dream of getting to present was quickly becoming a reality. Excited by the opportunity, the group put together a presentation, packed up their CHEPS fleeces, and hit the snowy roads in early December to begin the journey of a lifetime.

The team set off late at night on the 8th of December, driving from Ann Arbor to Toronto to catch their 7 am flight. Stopping in Newark first, followed by indulging in delicious sushi in the Tokyo airport, it wasn’t until 2 am that the crew finally arrived at their hotel in Singapore, 36 hours since their departure from Ann Arbor. Though exhausted, the three were ready to wake up early to attend the first day of the conference.

photo of 3 students wearing masks
From left to right: Rachel Zhang, Fumiya Abe-Nornes, Nathan Smith. The team finally landing in Singapore after 36 hours of travel.

The first day in Singapore and the conference started off with a simple breakfast from the 7-Eleven convenience store that lived next door to the hotel. This would soon become an essential part of the team’s morning routine so they could stock up on steamed buns, green tea, and coffee. With the plan for the day being to explore and to passively attend sessions, the team opted to wear their matching CHEPS fleeces.

Fumi and Nate enjoying their steamed pork buns from the local 7-Eleven
Marina Bay Sands decorating to match the winter theme, even in the 80-degree weather!

Upon arriving at the conference center, the team immediately noticed the luxury and grandeur of Marina Bay Sands. This conference center was placed adjacent to a luxury shopping mall and casino, all next to one of Singapore’s most iconic tourist attractions. Before exploring however, the trio decided to head straight to pick up name badges. As it was the first time for everyone on the team to attend an in-person conference, it was extremely exciting to be able to wear these official badges that were labeled “Speaker”. Fumi’s also came with an extra label of “Session Chair”. The three also scouted out the room they would be presenting in the next day and did handstands to make sure they truly felt comfortable in the space. The final event of the first day was the opening remarks session. It was incredible to hear about the ongoing research from the field and the three were excited to be there.

Practicing handstands in the room they were going to present in

The second day was presentation day. Nathan, Fumi, and Rachel had thoroughly rehearsed their parts in the hotel room the night before. A good amount of time was spent on refining word choice, structuring the delivery, and making sure the timing was exact. The morning of, everyone was dressed to the nines and ready to go. The three showed up early to the presentation room to make sure the PowerPoint was ready to go and to, of course, take pictures.

The team taking a picture right outside of the conference venue

The presentation went off without a hitch. Between the people attending in person and the people on zoom, there were approximately two dozen participants present to witness these CHEPSters take on their first conference presentation. Transitions between the speakers were fluid, everybody spoke with confidence, and none of the questions from the audience came as a surprise. After that session, the team stayed around and networked with some of the presenters.


Networking with other researchers investigating operational problems in healthcare delivery

The third and final day was brief. The team attended another presentation session with similar topics on systems engineering and healthcare, just like the previous days. It was very interesting to hear about all sorts of ongoing research, from using drones to enhance a blood delivery system, analyzing nurse practitioner fatigue, and assessing the impact of variability on emergency room wait times. All in all, attending this conference was an amazing professional opportunity for the team, and all three were very grateful for this experience.

One of the highlights of the trip was the food. Among the many delicious options that Singapore had to offer, the team indulged in conveyer belt sushi, Korean barbeque, dim sum, hawker stands, and much more!

The team enjoying conveyer belt sushi…
…and food from the hawker stalls
Korean BBQ
Japanese curry

Though the team spent most of their time in Singapore attending the conference, they made sure to go sight-seeing in their free time. When asked about the highlight of the trip, Nate described that although he was a little nervous at first to travel halfway across the world, the strength of the friendships persevered, adding that what he enjoyed more than anything was getting to enjoy all the experiences together. Similarly, Rachel added that even in stressful moments, she felt confident that together, the three could figure anything out, “and, that time Nate ate a spicy pepper and couldn’t stop sweating for 15 minutes!”

Singapore Comicon 2022
floral shirts in front of flowers
super tree grove
Garden by the Bay Avatar the Experience

On the evening of December 15th, the team had to say its goodbyes to Singapore, and began their journey home. Though the trip was not the smoothest, including an unexpected 24-hour delay in San Francisco, the team once again found themselves making the most of it. It was quite the transition from the luxurious Jewel Changi Airport to scraping ice off the car in Toronto but eventually, the three made it home to Ann Arbor.

A tropical dream in the Singapore Airport
scraping ice off at the Toronto Airport

Thanks to CHEPS and the Seth Bonder foundation, Fumiya, Nathan, and Rachel were able to have an experience of a lifetime – presenting their research at an international conference. The team is grateful for everyone involved in helping turn their dreams into a reality, Fumiya adding that this wouldn’t have been possible without the semesters of hard work from every student who was previously on this project. The three are especially grateful for faculty director Amy Cohn who has encouraged them through the whole process and administrative assistant Gene Kim, and program director Christy Linebaugh, for their support in organizing the logistics of the trip.

Although the conference has come to an end, the three students continue their work at CHEPS, most recently working on a project looking at unexplained nerve injuries caused by surgeries. Even though this will be the last semester at CHEPS for the three, this experience brought them to be more than just research mates, but close friends. Fumiya will be starting medical school in the summer, while Nathan and Rachel will be taking time off from school as they prepare themselves for medical school. As they progress through their careers, the three hope to continue to take what they have learned at CHEPS and integrate it into the next phase of their professional lives.

— Written by Fumiya Abe-Nornes, Nathan Smith, and Rachel Zhang