VIDEO: Local high school students get hands-on experience at surgery simulation

Otolaryngology department hosts workshop to inspire students from diverse backgrounds to enter surgical careers

This video is best viewed in Chrome or Firefox.

(SACRAMENTO) — Shareen Pegany clutched the red cordless drill with two hands and aimed it slowly toward the synthetic skull, unsure if she was ready for the part that comes next. “This is scary,” she confessed, as the drill spun faster and whirred louder.

Within seconds, she successfully drilled a tiny hole into the skull. Then she looked up through her goggles with a victorious smile: “This is so cool!”

Pegany was one of 32 students from Sacramento High School to visit a task training laboratory at the UC Davis Health campus in Sacramento for a unique experience: to learn what it’s like to be a head and neck surgeon. The young scholars from the high school’s honors research program gathered around worktables staffed with faculty members, residents, medical students and equipment representatives. They took turns drilling into model skulls, then screwed skinny titanium plates to piece together simulated broken facial bones.

“We’re actually taking the cream of the crop of surgeon education and bringing it to these high school students,” said Professor D. Gregory Farwell, chair of the Otolaryngology department. The procedure, he added, is the same one that takes place in the operating room. “This is as realistic as it gets.”

Farwell came up with the idea to invite students from Sacramento High, a storied institution known for its rich history, diversity and community involvement in the Oak Park neighborhood. It’s one of the oldest high schools in the Western United States, and its campus is one of four that make up the St. HOPE educational system, where 75 percent of students receive free or reduced-cost meals. In addition, 59% of St. HOPE students are African-American and 27% are Hispanic.

Professor D. Gregory Farwell, chair of the Otolaryngology department, teaches Sacramento High School students about facial surgery

Otolaryngology, a specialty that is focused on the ears, nose, and throat, is a small, crowded and competitive field. It also isn't as diverse as Farwell would like it to be, which explains the reason for the outreach.

“Increasing exposure to otolaryngology for a broader demographic is good for our specialty,” he said. “It allows for talented people to figure out if this might be something they would want to do the rest of their life.”

An "amazing" experience

Senior Jazmine Spears would love to be a pediatrician or OB/GYN, and she’ll probably never forget the otolaryngology simulation workshop.

“This is amazing: I’m touching an actual jaw, I’m drilling, I’m working with other students, I’m getting team-building skills,” said Spears, who has been offered a full scholarship to Tulane University in Louisiana.

“I’m having such a good time, I wish we could stay longer,” she said. “This has been an amazing experience.”

The workshop in a simulation area of Betty Irene Moore Hall was organized by the UC Davis School of Medicine’s Office of Student and Resident Diversity (OSRD), which sponsors several pathway programs from elementary school-age to post postbaccalaureate students.

“We want the students to get excited and curious about medicine, and to return to participate in pre-health programs we offer such as HEALTH Equity Academy and Tour Day. Ultimately, we want them to be represented in the future health care team,” said OSRD Manager Patricia González. Her department received a grant from DePuy Synthes, part of the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices group, for the workshop supplies.

“We are grateful that Dr. Farwell reached out to us to collaborate on this diversity outreach event and we encourage other departments to do the same,” González said.

St. HOPE’s top administrator described the workshop as a “win-win” for Sac High and the School of Medicine.

“Obviously, we’re really passionate about having our students represented in fields they aren’t historically represented in, and medicine is a big one,” said Chief of Schools Kari Wehrly. “This is the first time they have been at UC Davis Medical Center and we are literally right down the street, so the more possibilities, the better.”

When the workshop ended and the students were getting into position for a group photo, Farwell made an announcement that prompted enthusiastic cheering: The students, he said, could take the skulls back to their school.

UC Davis School of Medicine
The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at