Course Review

Specialty skills in emergency surgery and trauma (SSET)

Authors: Christine Biela 

Publication date:  08 Jan 2013


This two day course aims to help junior surgical trainees in general surgery to develop theoretical and practical skills in emergency and trauma surgery. It allows junior doctors to get hands-on practice in key emergency surgical procedures, to which juniors often have limited exposure in the early stages of their training.

Who is it for?

This course is designed primarily for core surgical trainees, but it is also suitable for foundation year 2 doctors with an interest in general surgery or those about to enter core surgical training. I took this course at the beginning of foundation year 2 and did some quick revision of common surgical emergencies beforehand to help me get up to speed with the core surgical trainees.

Why did you do it?

This course appealed to me as I am keen on pursuing a career in surgery. I wanted the opportunity to learn and practise common emergency surgical procedures before starting core surgical training, which I hoped would build my confidence in operative skills and managing surgical patients on call.

Where is it held?

The course is held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London. It currently takes place once a year and has a limited number of places. Student numbers are kept low at about 12 to enable a high tutor to student ratio during practical sessions.

What does it involve?

This highly interactive course is led by an experienced group of tutors in the college’s state of the art Wolfson Surgical Skills Centre and uses porcine specimens. The two days comprise a mixture of small group discussions and lectures and use common emergency clinical scenarios and hands-on practical sessions. The informal case discussions were excellent because they were based on real life cases provided by both the faculty and students. The students are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds with different levels of experience, which provides a rich base for discussion and learning.

Day 1 practical sessions comprise an introduction to emergency surgery, covering exploratory laparotomy, open appendicectomy, embolectomy, and vascular patch repair. Day 2 focuses on haemorrhage control, packing the abdomen, and hepatic and splenic trauma, as well as emergency thoracotomy and management of intrathoracic haemorrhage.

I particularly enjoyed the chance to practise my surgical skills on fresh whole animal specimens. A maximum of two students are allocated to a whole porcine specimen, which is an excellent substitute for human tissue and gives great tactile feedback. Because of the low student to specimen ratio we all had the opportunity independently to carry out and practise each surgical technique, and we had a tutor at each specimen giving continuous tuition and feedback.

The course also includes a fun, and highly competitive, group session in which participants are challenged to design the “ideal” trauma centre with no financial constraints. It was interesting and very thought provoking to see the range of designs and ideas generated from different teams.

Each day ends with a small group session covering professionalism and legal issues that surround emergency surgery.

Is there an assessment?

Continuous informal feedback is given to participants throughout the course. There is no formal assessment, and you receive a certificate on completion of the course.

How much is it?

The course costs £765. This includes use of the college’s state of the art clinical skills centre, fresh pig specimens, and surgical equipment, as well as the course manual, lunch, refreshments, and dinner at the end of day 1.

Would you recommend it?

I would definitely recommend this course to other junior doctors. It provides an excellent opportunity to get hands-on practice in emergency surgery skills with a very experienced and enthusiastic team of tutors. The high tutor to student ratio (1:2) during practical sessions, and the small size of the case based discussion groups, allowed for a relaxed, interactive, and stimulating environment in which to learn and practise common emergency surgical techniques.

I feel that I have benefited immensely from doing this course because it has helped me develop more confidence in my surgical skills in theatre and in managing common emergency surgical cases on call. I believe that this is an invaluable course for foundation trainees because some foundation schools provide very limited exposure to emergency surgical patients before trainees start core surgical training. This course allows the trainee to experience and practise vital surgical techniques on lifelike specimens in a relaxed, simulated environment.

The course is designed by the Royal College of Surgeons and mapped to the new intercollegiate surgical curriculum programme, which makes it a must particularly for core surgical trainees and those wanting to pursue a career in general surgery.

Further information

The next course will be held on 27 and 28 March 2013. For further information, get in touch with the Royal College of Surgeons of England’s education department: tel: 020 7869 6300; email:  education@rcseng.ac.uk. [Link] .

Competing interests: None declared.

Christine Biela foundation year 2 doctor John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, UK

 c.biela@doctors.org.uk

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: