3D printing offers surgeons a cost-friendly way to practice

“Practice makes perfect” is a slogan for every surgeon, but practicing on animals or human cadavers has its limitations. A recent article, published in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, explains how 3D printing is making surgical practice easier with cost-efficient and realistic models.

Improving the quality of care for surgical patients is vital in ensuring a safe, speedy recovery. 3D-printed models provides an ability to practice before a procedure. They are fast becoming the norm in many teaching organizations because of cost and supply.

"3D printing is bringing a whole new meaning to hands-on experience for surgeons in training," said David Zopf, MD, the article's senior author and a pediatric head and neck surgeon at C.S Mott Children's Hospital. "Hands-on experience is critical for acquiring and improving surgical skills, especially of new and complex procedures. This is an exciting tool that not only offers trainees exposure to opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have but that also allows them to demonstrate proficiency of skills before being performed on children."

3D printing, which has been used at Mott for six years and based off computer CT scans, have been used in a variety of procedures including splits for babies with tracheobronchomalacia, models of fetuses for the planning of potentially complicated births and replicas of skulls for complex tumor removal. These models, especially in pediatric care where other practice models are scarce, open doors for improvement in surgery.

"Airway reconstruction for specialized cases is a technically demanding procedure that often involves carving cartilage to support and expand a reconstructed trachea," said Zopf. "Currently, a surgeon in training has scarce opportunity to carve cartilage graft for this type of procedure. We want to see if 3D printing can accelerate and enhance surgical training."