Reading, Writing—& Surgery

By Emily Gold Boutilier / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007
In his thirty years as a Rhode Island Hospital heart surgeon, Clinical Professor of Surgery Arun Singh has of course instructed many medical students and residents. But he’s also had a wish that’s somewhat rare for a physician in a specialty not exactly known for its friendly bedside manner: he’s wanted to reach a younger audience. “That’s where the future is,” he says, adding that learning about surgery shouldn’t just be for what he terms “the elite.”

Singh got his wish in late October, when he strapped a video camera to his head and beamed a doctor’s-eye view of triple-bypass surgery to high school students around the state. Most of the students watched the operation live on television monitors in their classrooms, but those from LaSalle Academy and the Providence Health and Science Technology High School traveled to the hospital to observe from a classroom there. Most sat awestruck during the one-and-a-half-hour procedure as Singh sawed open the chest cavity of a sixty-eight-year-old man and circumvented his clogged arteries. All the while, Singh and the students talked via a live satellite feed.

The students, Singh later said, asked all the important questions: What is the outlook for the patient? What should he expect when he gets home? Is there an alternative to surgery? “What amazed me,” he says, “was their seriousness and well preparedness.”

Singh was also pleased that the students grilled him on how much training it takes to become a doctor or a nurse. His goal, in fact, was to inspire young people to train for careers in medicine—and not just to become a doctor. One of Singh’s purposes in giving the students a glimpse of the operating room was to show them how many people besides doctors are involved. Heart surgery, he pointed out, is not a one-man show but a joint effort that includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and technicians. “They are all part of the team,” Singh says. “They are not servants.” He believes such a lesson is especially important given today’s shortage of nurses.

Singh insisted that the event include as many public school students as possible. To prepare, the students reviewed materials on biology and on coronary-bypass surgery. At Singh’s request, they also read about how diet and exercise can prevent the need for the operation in the first place. After completing the surgery, Singh hung around the hospital talking to students from the Health and Science Technology High School.

To Singh’s surprise, the surgery generated some buzz in the local media; television stations and the Providence Journal all reported on the event. “But the most exciting part was that the kids enjoyed it and I enjoyed it,” he says.

Singh and the hospital are now looking to do similar projects all along the East Coast.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
January / February 2003