Surgical Competency Team

This blog is written by Fumiya Abe-Nornes, Nisarg Polra, and Rachel Zhang of the Summer 2021 Surgical Competency Team. 

Surgical residency is just one of many steps that an individual has to go through in order to become a surgeon. The typical path for a surgical trainee is to attend medical school, followed by residency, with an optional fellowship afterwards before practicing. It is during this surgical residency where a trainee is exposed to many different fields within surgery, such as orthopedics, cardiac, etc.

Our project, titled surgical competency, focuses on this residency program. Specifically, we are interested in using simulation to assess how variation, such as in trainee learning curves, transference of skill among procedures, among others, could have an impact on the learning outcomes of a surgical residency program. This project started a little over two years ago and has had a handful of students of different backgrounds contribute to it.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the last year of the project has consisted of many meetings over Zoom with no in-person interactions among the team. However, last week, the current team was able to meet for the first time in person. During this meeting, the team talked a little bit about their experience with the project. In this blog, we have some dialogue from our meeting:


Fumi: Good morning! It’s crazy to see you both in person as opposed to on Zoom! I think it would be a good idea to start with some brief introductions, I can start. My name is Fumi and I just graduated with a degree in biophysics, and have been on this project for two years now. I am also an avid cricket fan and play some trumpet!

Rachel: Hi! My name is Rachel, I’m a rising junior majoring in biomedical engineering. I’m also minoring music and studying pre-med, and this is my first semester on the project!. Fun fact about me is that I play clarinet in the Michigan Marching Band!

Nisarg: Hi all! I’m Nisarg and I’m studying Computer Science in the College of Engineering and also minoring in Business, and this is also my first semester on the project. Fun fact about me is that I follow almost every major sport.

Fumi: Great! I’m curious, for the two of you, what was one thing that surprised you about this project?

Zhang Student Photo

Rachel: The staff and clinical collaborators are extremely encouraging of our ideas, and most of the progress with Surg Comp’s work has been initiated by us students. This environment has really helped us grow as researchers and young professionals.

Nisarg: The way that this project is mostly student-led and managed really surprised me. Everything from daily work to meeting with surgeons (our clinical collaborators) is student initiated and that is something I enjoy about this project.

Fumi: I definitely agree with you both. Being on this project for two years, it has definitely felt like we as students have a lot of say in the direction of the project. It has been incredibly fun to work with our clinical collaborators closely to have interesting discussions on what the next steps of this project are.

Rachel: Fumi, what has been your favorite memory for surg comp?

Fumi: Hmm… that’s hard, because it’s hard to pinpoint one specific time above all others. However I can say for sure that seeing many different students of different backgrounds come in and contribute to this project has been incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much from everyone. What about you?

Rachel: Being that I’m new to CHEPS this semester, this meetup in person is probably my favorite memory. The way we all logged on to our meeting with Amy on separate computers, seeing if she would notice that we all had the same background, and then the shock on her face when we panned the camera to show that we were all together. I’m really excited to meet more CHEPS people in person and have this community grow! This has been an incredible environment to be a part of.

Polara Student Photo

Nisarg: I agree, today’s in person meeting has been a highlight for sure. On the project side of things, I’m really excited to start incorporating skill decay into our code. Now that we have made progress on the conceptual model, I look forward to the designing and implementation of it and see where that takes us!

Fumi: For my final question, I want to ask you both to describe what you believe the significance of this project is — why is this project important? Why should people care?

Rachel: Surgeons have to go through several years of education and training before becoming qualified to operate independently. Understanding the various factors that assist and inhibit learning should provide valuable insight to help optimize surgical residency programs and hopefully produce more competent surgeons overall.

Nisarg: This project is extremely useful for improving surgical residency programs to ensure that all of the residents are competent upon program completion. Since being a surgeon involves critical tasks on a daily basis, improving resident training programs is really important.

Fumi: I couldn’t agree more. Thank you both for meeting with me in person today and I look forward to hopefully more in person meetings for our team!

surg comp team
Fumi, Rachel, and Nisarg with CHEPS Faculty Director Amy Cohn joining virtually