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Dr. Dale Podolsky: Life-Like Simulators – An Important Tool For Mastering Surgical Procedures

This is the second in a five-part series in which we introduce Canadian Medical Association members to the recipients of the first round of Joule™ Innovation grants. Please watch for additional stories in the series.

Thanks to technological advancements over the past two decades, high-fidelity simulation is becoming an important part of medical training. The main purpose of surgical simulation is to provide a way for surgeons-in-training to practice procedures and master them prior to performing them on live patients. Makes sense right? However, most simulators fail to capture the complexity and subtleties that are necessary to master a surgical procedure. But it’s innovative physicians like Dr. Dale Podolsky who have been able to capture this by developing the most realistic simulators available.

Cleft palate simulator

The Simulare cleft palate simulator includes a base and
replaceable cartridges, which allow the trainee to
complete the crucial steps of the procedure and practice
multiple times by simply replacing the cartridge

Dr. Dale Podolsky, an engineer and resident in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at The University of Toronto and part of the surgeon-scientist training program, has focused his efforts on developing simulators that are highly realistic, anatomically accurate and can be used to perform end-to-end complex surgical procedures. By developing simulators for surgical training, Dale’s goal is to help shorten the learning curve and elevate a surgeon’s level of competency to enable performance of safer procedures on actual patients.

“The advantage of using simulation as part of physician training, is that it allows trainees to learn a complex procedure at their own pace in a low pressure environment. Making mistakes has no direct patient consequences and it enables repetition which in-turn leads to increased proficiency and ultimately better trained surgeons” claims Dr. Podolsky.

Recognizing the important role simulation has to play in the medical field, Dr. Podolsky founded Simulare Medical Corp. With the help of leading physicians and surgeons, the company’s mandate is to bring innovation and acceleration to the medical training process.

The first product introduced by Simulare is a cleft palate simulator, which is one of a number of simulators it intends to develop. The cleft palate simulator was developed and tested by Dr. Podolsky in collaboration with four leading pediatric surgeons (Dr. David Fisher, Dr. Karen Wong, Dr. James Drake, Dr. Christopher Forrest) at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Simulator use

   Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery resident
   performing a cleft palate repair on the
   cleft palate simulator.

Cleft palate repair is an excellent application for surgical simulation as it is difficult to learn and teach due to the small confined operating space and delicate tissues involved. The Simulare cleft palate simulator enables a trainee to operate on a precise replica of the mouth and to gain a deep understanding of cleft anatomy and the critical steps of the procedure.

Why this application? Cleft lip and/or palate is the most common congenital abnormality and is seen in 1/700 births which equates to 200,000 new cases worldwide every year. Beyond the need for the cleft palate simulator in the developed world, access to surgeons trained in this procedure in the developing world is often lacking. The cleft palate simulator is a vehicle for surgeons in low and middle income countries to more safely and effectively learn this procedure to provide care to those who desperately need it.

But Dr. Podolsky’s aspirations don’t end here. Outside of his role as Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Simulare Medical, he is also pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering while completing his residency.

It is people like Dr. Dale Podolsky that inspire other practitioners to go beyond their practice, delve into developing healthcare solutions and bring them to market. It is this type of innovation and inspired thinking that Joule™ supports and encourages. Dr. Podolsky intends to apply Joule’s Innovation Grant to support development of additional simulators in other surgical areas.

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