Registered nurse Kate Mlacak is a vital part of the expanding robotics program in UHN's Sprott Department of Surgery. (Photo: Regina Garcia)

May 9 to 15 marks National Nursing Week. As we recognize and celebrate our nurses, we highlight the critical skills they use to care for patients across UHN.

The Sprott Department of Surgery at UHN has long embraced innovation and new ways of working. So when technologies present themselves that can help clinicians do even more with their hands, eyes and minds, they jump at the chance to incorporate them into their operations.

For more than a decade, Sprott Surgery has been making use of computer-guided robotics and tools to help surgeons access hard-to-reach areas of the body and make minimally-invasive incisions. With this tech, clinicians don't have to open patients up for surgery, which then results in faster operations and recovery times.

Registered nurse Kate Mlacak is a vital member of the team of innovators in Sprott Surgery's expanding robotics program.

Kate Mlacak: the driver

If it wasn't for Kate, a robotics coordinator, the pace of robotics advancement at UHN would be dramatically slower.

That's because Kate has been instrumental in expanding the program and training the nursing staff on how to prepare the Da Vinci Surgical System, a multiarmed machine that surgeons use to conduct a wide range of minimally invasive surgeries. The system, which has several tool-holding arms, is operated from a separate console within the operating room (OR).

When Kate started her position as a robotics coordinator 10 years ago, robotic surgery at UHN was in its infancy. It was mostly confined to gynecological oncology surgery and prostatectomies.

Since then, she has watched the scope of treatment grow exponentially. Surgeons now perform everything from oropharyngectomy (a minimally invasive head and neck operation done through a patient's mouth) to nipple-sparing mastectomies.

"I've been there to watch the program grow, and it has expanded in leaps and bounds," Kate says.

One of Kate's responsibilities is to stay on top of what's happening in the robotic surgery realm, especially given how quickly technology can change. She spends countless hours watching videos and reading papers on how other teams from around the world put these systems to use. She then shares her learnings with her colleagues.

"For every surgery, the OR has a different configuration," Kate explains, which means she needs to know where to place these robotic tools so that floor space is optimized for the surgical team. "It's exciting that we can do these really massive surgeries and really big cases in a minimally invasive way."

It's the constant learning and improvement in patient care that drives her and her team of nurses.

"I'm always doing something new for my patients," Kate says. "We're doing some really innovative things."

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