By Sebastian Harenberg
Sebastian Harenberg is a Clinical Research Scientist, with a doctorate in Kinesiology and Health Studies. He is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College in New York. Dr. Harenberg has previously conducted research on the effect multiple object tracking has on laparoscopic surgical skills.
Surgical skill is renowned for demands on fine motor-skill performance. The biggest challenge, however, is to function under high loads of cognitive stress and pressure. From observations in the clinical field, the thing that most impressed me is how surgeons have to control their attention very carefully over a refined skillset. This happens all while ignoring lots of distractions in the surgery environment.
Operation rooms are hectic places; time is critical, and there is the huge psychological pressure of holding the patient’s future in your hands. Abilities vary greatly from one person to another. When you train as a surgeon, it’s tough to acquire these essential cognitive skills.
Traditionally speaking, most training is technical and knowledge-based. Cognitive aspects are underrepresented. A lot of literature suggests that video game performance is relevant to surgical skills. These games, however, are highly varied in what type of skills you train and they’re not clearly measured. So what kind of game should you play? How much time do you need to spend on it?
To address this challenge I worked with a clinical research team to investigate if NeuroTracker could be of value. In surgery it’s important to not just be quick, but also precise; efficiency of movement is key. We found that NeuroTracker baselines explained a significant amount of the variance in movement speed and efficiency with medical students performing a surgery simulation test. It’s promising to see a relationship between these two tasks, which suggests potential for future research.
It would be interesting to see if training on NeuroTracker could help surgeons to focus on the job and perform better. Surgeons could benefit from tools that can be used in a practical way. In particular, they don’t have much time to spare, so there is a clear need for improving necessary skills quickly. The NeuroTracker task is an example of something which is simple enough so that a lot of people can understand it quickly, but complex enough to challenge everyone.
There is also a lot of promising directions we could take with cognitive interventions. Think about cardiac surgeons who sometimes have to perform over 24 hour shifts where serious cognitive fatigue sets in. I’d be interested to see if interventions like NeuroTracker could help sustain cognitive processing for longer. There could be many such applications for surgeon development if transfer from cognitive training can be established.
Sebastian Harenberg, PhD holder in Kinesiology and Health Studies, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College in New York. Dr. Harenberg has also served as a sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina. He has published research in various medical and sports coaching journals.
Cover Photo: Phalinn Ooi Under CC BY 2.0
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