How do surgeons-in-training learn to do dangerous, complex operations without harming their patients? Increasingly, they practice in virtual reality.
For example, a computer screen displays models of human organs as the medical student holds instruments programmed to simulate the sensations of operating on real tissues.
A recent book by Rachel Prentice, associate professor of science and technology studies at Cornell, describes how surgical simulators and other technologies are shaping surgeons in the 21st century.
“Bodies in Formation: An Ethnography of Anatomy and Surgery Education” (Duke University Press) is an ethnographic examination of anatomy and surgery teaching and the rise of simulators and other technologies for teaching and practice. The book documents how physicians-in-training come to embody biomedical techniques, perceptions, judgments and ethics, learning medical values while learning to practice medicine.
An anthropologist of medicine, technology and the body, Prentice argues that medical students and residents learn through practice, coming to embody unique ways of perceiving, acting and being. Drawing on ethnographic observation in anatomy laboratories, operating rooms and technology design groups, she shows how trainees become physicians through interactions with colleagues and patients, technologies and pathologies, bodies and persons.
“I wanted to foreground the technical, ethical and affective formation of physicians, demonstrating how, even within a world of North American biomedicine increasingly dominated by technologies for remote interventions and computerized teaching, good care remains the art of human healing,” Prentice said.