Local high schoolers are going head-to-head this weekend to see if they have what it takes to become the next generation of surgeons. 

The Department of Surgery at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine hosted its first ever UB Drone STEM competition Saturday. 

It brought together teams from five area high schools to compete in skills from flying a drone simulator to completing peg transfers with minimally invasive, laproscopic surgical tools.

“Some of these skills are the exact same skills that surgical residents in training to become board certified surgeons do and are required before they can go out into practice,” explained Dr. Steven Schwaitzberg, the Department of Surgery chair. 

All of the students have been practicing the tasks for the competition over the last month with help from their teachers and mentors from UB’s school of medicine. 

Each of the tasks tests hand-eye coordination and visual-spacial awareness in ways real surgeons are put to the test every day in the operating room. 

The skills seemed to be second nature to the high schoolers, who have grown up texting and playing video games. 

“Some of these kids are actually better than some of the surgeons who have been practicing surgery for over a few decades,” said Dr. Nargis Hossain, Academic Programs Officer for the UB Department of Surgery.

“It’s amazing what competition and capital-t Team can do,” said Dr. James “Butch” Rosser, a professor of surgery at UB and the CEO of the Stealth Learning Company, who helped develop this competition.

And while the students’ abilities are amazing in themselves, they’re that much more so when considered in the context of real-life surgeries. 

“Patient outcomes are a lot better with laproscopic skills, with robotic skills,” Dr. Hossain pointed out. 

This competition lays the groundwork for improving patient outcomes in the future, while improving the students’ short term and long term outcomes.

“In my research, we found out how video games, drones, rap music can all help you to achieve,” explained Dr. Rosser. “And we’re using surgical simulation for the real-world relevance of medicine and we’re combining all of that with engagement and fun let these kids know they can achieve.”

That’s experiential learning at its finest, Dr. Schwaitzberg said.

“What we really hope is that it’s experiential inspiration,” he added. “We’re going to have counselors from the some of the colleges that will actually help kids get in line to do nursing, medicine, technology, pharmacy.”

Dr. Schwaitzberg says there are a lot of job openings in those fields.

He says the average age of nurses is 50, so there’s a huge demand for new nurses as the current force retires. 

Dr. Rosser says there’s also currently a shortage of about 86,000 surgeons in the United States.

The students taking part in Saturday’s competition are getting on the path to become the next generation of surgeons, while bringing serious bragging rights back to the their home schools.