'It's cooler watching it live': Students take live streamed surgery in stride

Over 100 students packed into the school library at Sisler High School in Winnipeg on Tuesday to watch a doctor slice into a patient's thumb.

Pan Am clinic live streams surgeries for students from Winnipeg to Taiwan

For the fourth time, students at Sisler High School watched a livestreamed surgery from the Pan Am Clinic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

Over 100 students packed into the school library at Sisler High School in Winnipeg on Tuesday to watch a doctor slice open a patient's thumb. 

It was part of a unique opportunity for biology students to watch a surgery performed live via a broadcast from the Pan Am Clinic.

Watching the surgery gives students interested in pursuing medicine a glimpse at what it's like to work in an operating room, said Sisler biology teacher Matthew Robak. 

"It's something you can't get in the classroom. It's one of those things that students are always afraid of," said Robak. "They get to see what goes on behind the scenes, something you typically don't get a chance to do unless you specifically chase that route."

Grade 10 student Justine Estrella said she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the surgeons performing an operation at the Pan Am clinic, because she wants to be a surgeon herself one day.

With the high-pitched sound of a drill cutting through the patient's bone coming from the screen behind him, Robak noted though that the experience can also help students realize they might not be cut out for the job.

"You'd rather have them make those decisions now versus when they have invested four years into university," he said. 

The Pan Am Clinic has been doing live streams of their surgeries for nine years and this is the fourth time students at Sisler have had the opportunity, said Wayne Hildahl, a physician and the clinic's chief operating officer. 

On Tuesday, from their school's library, the students watched a doctor perform a surgery on the joint where the thumb meets the wrist, an operation used to treat thumb arthritis. 

Teacher faints but students keen

One teacher fainted as Sisler High School students watched surgeons at the Pan Am clinic operate on a patient's thumb Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

Hildahl says the live broadcasts are an effort to give back to the community and to encourage students to pursue medicine. However, he admits the graphic nature of some of the surgeries might put some people off. 

"Some students will get a little queasy," Hildahl said. "We've seen it happen today, I've seen it happen in the past." 

At Tuesday's live streaming, a teacher fainted in the school library early on during the surgery. She was quickly helped by some of her co-workers. 

On the other hand, Hildahl said some students are eager to watch the surgeries. 

"When we did this at Pan Am with a group of Grade 9 students we were in the middle of a surgery when we ordered lunch for them. It was pizza," he explained. "So we said, 'We'll turn the surgery off and you can eat your lunch.' But they said, 'No, leave it on.' So we did! And surprisingly no one got queasy at that one." 

Grade 10 student Justine Estrella, who is interested in becoming a surgeon or a doctor, said she wasn't fazed by the experience. 

"During my free time I watch a bunch of bloody surgeries," she said with a laugh. 

She said she also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the surgeons. The surgery was live streamed across the world, as far away as Taiwan, and students were encouraged to ask questions about the operation. 

Watching the live stream has fuelled Justine's interest in medicine.

"It's much cooler watching it live, and seeing them do it … instead of showing it in class and learning about it in lectures.