Friday, Feb 2, 2024

Local students practice robotics, get taste of medical careers during Ballad Health da Vinci Robotics Symposium

Local high school students were able to engage with the latest robotic surgery technology during Ballad Health’s first-ever da Vinci Robotics Symposium.

The event featured presentations led by local surgeons who specialize in robotic surgery, offering attendees an in-depth overview of the leading-edge field of robotics-assisted surgery. The presentation also shed light on career opportunities within robotics and health science fields.

Following the presentation, students participated in demonstrations with the da Vinci robots, getting first-hand use of the innovative technology used in surgical procedures. The interactive sessions gave the students immersive and personalized experiences, building on the foundational health science and technology curriculums in their schools.

"Engaging with students early on and providing them with hands-on experiences in robotics can be a pivotal factor in shaping their interest in health science fields,” said Dr. Stephanie Hart, a general surgeon with Ballad Health Medical Associates who provided the demonstrations.

“The curiosity sparked during events like these has the potential to blossom into a passion for innovation and patient care. By investing in the education of young minds, as we are doing through programs like the newly announced Ballad Health Academy, we are sowing the seeds for a future generation of skilled healthcare professionals. This not only benefits the students themselves, but it also contributes significantly to the development of a resilient and competent healthcare workforce that can meet the evolving needs of our community."

“I believe it is vital to the future of our region to develop partnerships among our schools and the healthcare community,” said Andy Hare, principal at Sullivan East High School, one of the schools that participated in the day’s events. “These relationships will cultivate opportunities that will create a highly qualified and sustainable workforce for generations to come.”

“These students have an interest in pursuing careers in the healthcare industry, and events like this get them excited about their futures as they explore the countless opportunities that await them,” said Katie Dugger, a health science teacher at Elizabethton High School.

“We value when organizations and businesses in our community work alongside us at the high school level to help ensure our students are prepared for their next steps in order to meet the workforce needs in our region."

The da Vinci Robotic Surgery Symposium is Ballad Health’s latest advancement in engaging local students with healthcare careers. Last month, the health system announced an unprecedented program developed to accelerate pathways into healthcare careers through a $15.3 million grant provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The program includes a partnership between five local high school districts, several community colleges and career-technical education (CTE) centers and will help address the unique rural nature of the Appalachian Highlands by providing access to streamlined education and training for a healthcare career, which can lead directly to a high-demand job and further educational and career opportunities after graduation.

“We really embrace any opportunity to engage with students on potential healthcare careers, and this event gave them an excellent frontline view of what they can study and explore in the future,” said Robbie George, Ballad Health’s vice president of surgical services. “Robotic surgery, particularly, is one of the most rapidly advancing and expanding surgical fields, and as these students are about to begin their careers, they’re in a unique position to learn, grow and evolve alongside the technology.”

The da Vinci surgical system includes four robotic arms that can be equipped with surgical instruments, as well as a high-definition camera. Surgeons use a separate control panel to move the robotic arms, which leads to a smoother, more precise procedure. The camera gives the surgeon a magnified, 3D view of the surgical site, providing surgeons a clearer view of the surgical site.

The system allows surgeons to perform procedures with more flexibility and precision through incisions that are less than two centimeters long, leaving patients with less pain, blood loss and scarring, shorter hospital stays and shorter recovery times than afforded by conventional open surgery. Additionally, surgeons can use special imaging services during procedures to spot non-healthy tissue more easily.

Ballad Health currently offers robotic-assisted surgery Bristol Regional Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital, Greeneville Community Hospital, Holston Valley Medical Center, Indian Path Community Hospital, Johnson City Medical Center, Johnston Memorial Hospital, and the system has also developed a robotics training program for new and incoming surgeons. Da Vinci surgical systems have been in use in Ballad Health facilities since 2008, with more than 16,000 robotic-assisted procedures performed throughout the system to date. The surgical systems are an option for multiple surgical specialties, including general surgery, orthopedic surgery, urological surgery and gynecologic surgery, and a recent expansion of the health system’s robotic surgery program has also enabled it to provide some minimally invasive pulmonary procedures.

Patients should consult with their doctor to see if robotic-assisted surgery is right for them. Read more about Ballad Health’s robotic-assisted surgery program at

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