AAOS Bulletin - February, 2005

OLC looks forward to next decade

Improving technology, streamlining courses among OLC’s goals

Kathleen Misovic

As the Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC) celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, its staff and contributing surgeons began looking forward to the next decade with an ambitious yet attainable goal.

“We want to be the best center in the world in providing high quality, high value, unbiased and hands-on education in orthopaedics,” said Edward Akelman, MD, chair of the AAOS CME Courses Committee.

The OLC opened in 1994 as a joint effort between the AAOS and the Arthroscopy Association of North America (AANA). It has stayed true to its mission to enhance patient care by providing an educational environment for the development of surgical skills.

The OLC offers focused instructional courses on various orthopaedic topics. It boasts a custom-designed 5,600-square-foot bioskills lab with 25 workstations equipped with anatomical models, audio/visual feeds, water and compressed air, vacuum and electronic hookups. Participants can watch an instructor execute techniques on multiple ceiling-high screens, then perform the same skills on cadaveric specimens.

More than 4,000 orthopaedic surgeons attend classes each year at the OLC. The center’s convenient location at AAOS headquarters in Rosemont, Ill., is one of the reasons it has been so popular. “It’s close to O’Hare Airport, and the proximity to hotel accommodations makes it ideal for travelers,” said Pat Cichlar, RN, executive director of the OLC.

Visiting surgeons also appreciate that the center keeps abreast of the latest technology, such as audiovisual equipment.

Keeping up with technology

Looking to the future, Cichlar would like to expand the center’s technology, perhaps adding more video teleconferencing and Web casting programs. Web conferencing programs allow OLC participants to view surgeries on the Internet. Video teleconferencing programs enable OLC participants to watch surgeons perform procedures from another location during a live broadcast, and communicate with them during the procedure.

“It’s a very interactive program for the participants in the OLC. They are able to ask questions of the surgeon during the procedure and then move into the lab and practice what they saw,” explained Ed Goss, executive director of AANA. “As we use this technology more often, we will continue to improve the experience.”

The OLC is also looking to use virtual reality to simulate surgery and assist surgeons who want to improve their manual dexterity. This new technology may be especially useful in the future as cadaveric specimens become harder to obtain.

“More labs are opening around the country, creating a growing need for cadaveric specimens,” Cichlar explained. “During a shortage, virtual reality would be a good way to educate surgeons without using cadaveric specimens.”

Technology can also assist orthopaedic surgeons in becoming comfortable with the newest surgical techniques, such as minimally invasive surgeries. “Arthroscopy is by definition ‘minimally invasive’ surgery,” Goss said. “As the definition of ‘minimally invasive’ changes, AANA counts on the OLC to keep the lab up-to-date so that we may properly instruct surgeons on these techniques.”

During surgical skills courses at the OLC, surgons can view a procedure on screen and practice it on cadaveric specimens.

Listening to the doctors

The addition of new, improved technology is just one step in ensuring that the OLC meets its users’ needs, Dr. Akelman stressed.

“Our firm goal is to listen to our members and provide them with the education they want,” Dr. Akelman said. “We want to make sure the members get value from the OLC in terms of dollars and time.”

Members said they wanted more streamlined, convenient class schedules. So class hours were extended on Fridays and Saturdays, leaving Sunday free. “This way the surgeons can fly in on Thursday night, take a course on Friday and Saturday and then fly home Saturday night to spend Sunday with their families,” Dr. Akelman said.

But no matter how convenient the class schedule, no one will attend a class if it’s not covering a topic that interests them. “One of our most important goals is to continue to offer the doctors what they want,” Goss said. “We conduct needs assessments and keep a close watch on the course evaluations to see if we are hitting the mark.”

Keeping it affordable

Affordability is also important to orthopaedists in deciding which continuing education options to pursue. To help keep courses affordable, Cichlar would like to work closer with the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) to help secure additional funds for the OLC. “We’re on their donor listing so we’d like to promote that more. As more donations come in we can offset the cost to members,” she said.

Another financial goal for the OLC is to become more affordable to the AAOS and AANA by becoming self-sufficient. Goss explained that currently the Academy and AANA contribute additional support to the center.

“This should change quite soon when the OLC will survive on the fees it charges for services,” he said. “At that point, it will be unnecessary for either organization to contribute additional funds.”

Bursting with pride

In the 10 years the OLC has been operating, Cichlar and Goss have found their work with the center very rewarding.

“It’s a facility we can be proud of, and we feel a sense of ownership toward it because we helped build it from nothing,” said Goss.

“I’m proud that people look to the Academy and AANA as being leaders in education,” said Cichlar. “And that they look at the OLC as a state-of-the-art facility. We have a dynamic center and other people have used it as a guide in building their own learning centers, such as groups in Australia, China and South America.”

Goss said he is most proud of how well the AANA-sponsored courses in the OLC have been received. AANA employs not only master instructors who are reimbursed in full for their expenses, but also associate instructors who volunteer their services, with AANA reimbursing for their lodging and food only.

“There’s a long waiting list of orthopaedic surgeons wanting to fly in on their own money and teach,” Goss said. “This tells me there’s something happening here they really like.”

Goss said that the course participants are a diverse group, ranging from less experienced surgeons seeking basic information to advanced surgeons looking to hone their skills with master teachers.

“We’re doing a good job of reaching students in all phases of their practice and meeting their needs,” he said.

Cichlar and Goss are pleased with the progress made by the OLC board of directors, which is comprised of both AAOS and AANA members. “During the past 10 years the board has been working as a cohesive group for the betterment of the OLC, not just for their respective organizations,” Cichlar said.

“It’s an independent board and its members are not afraid to say ‘no’ to either the Academy or AANA,” said Goss.

Cichlar also has a personal reason for her pride in the OLC. As someone who has undergone joint replacement surgery on both of her hips, she understands the importance of a facility to train surgeons for these orthopaedic procedures. “Part of my reward in working here is my own experience,” Cichlar said. “It’s good to know surgeons have a place to come to learn and perfect new skills before they use them on patients.”

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