Drs. Gordon Tait, Annette Vegass, Dr. Massimiliano Meineri and Wendy Tsang
(L to R) The work of Drs. Gordon Tait, Annette Vegass, Massimiliano Meineri and Wendy Tsang involving PIE fills a major gap in helping doctors and students learn new technologies and techniques. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Most of us assume that when a medical student completes a degree in one area of specialization such as anesthesiology, that student is ready to work medical magic in a clinical setting. That's somewhat true, but with an important caveat.

Like any professionals doing complex work, doctors need time and practice to perfect their craft. But when it comes to mastering key technical skills in medicine, getting practice time can be complicated.

Simply finding patients on whom to perfect diagnostic testing skills requires a mixture of the right timing and the right cases.

"If you are working on a day when it's all coronary bypass surgeries, and there's no valve pathology, then you don't gain any experience imaging and analyzing abnormal valves," explains Dr. Wendy Tsang, a researcher, cardiologist and staff physician in the Echocardiography Lab of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC).

The challenge is even greater when it comes to practicing procedures such as transesophageal echocardiography (TEE), where a tiny probe is fed down a patient's esophagus in order to gain a clear and unobstructed view of the heart.

An indispensable tool, TEE is relatively challenging to master, making practice time crucial for the anesthesiologists tasked with conducting the procedure.

"You can't practice on people because sticking the probe down someone's throat isn't pleasant," says Dr. Gordon Tait, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia and Manager of Perioperative Interactive Education (PIE) at Toronto General Hospital.

"In cardiology, it's also not done commonly because you have to be heavily sedated, so the great majority of TEE is done in the operating room on patients about to have cardiac surgery."

About a decade ago, Dr. Tait took it upon himself to overcome that challenge.

His idea was simple: What if anesthesiologists had a virtual platform for practising TEE, rather than working on live patients? So the PIE team in collaboration with Toronto General Hospital anesthesiologist Dr. Annette Vegas, Professor of Anesthesia, set out to create a virtual TEE website that would allow people to learn how to perform the procedure without patient involvement.

PMCC Magazine 

The third annual Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) magazine published by The Globe and Mail focuses on why Canada's premier cardiac centre is known for being "the heartbeat of innovation." The magazine explores the PMCC model that supports the creation, development and evolution of innovative ideas into action – making "today's idea, tomorrow's practice." It also examines the impact that a culture of innovation has on the way cardiovascular care is delivered now and into the future.

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