SAMD visit

12. December 2017

For Davos students, AO turns theory into practice


What is the gauge of the drill bit that you need to bore through bone? How do you twist a stainless steel plate so it hugs the natural contours of the humerus? What are the steps you need to take as a surgeon to reduce and stabilize a fracture?

For most science students, the answers are in the books, and that's where they stay. But a group of 29 teenagers from the Davos high school (SAMD) had the chance to practice these techniques for real in a series of hands-on practical sessions at the Davos Courses.  

The AO Foundation puts huge stock in educating local people about the work it does to drive excellence in surgical care, and at this year's Davos Courses, the engagement with local schools has been at a level never previously seen in their 58-year history. 

The SAMD students visited the AO Center last month to discover the kind of research conducted at the foundation's headquarters, and as part two of the engagement they were directed by world-class faculty through the basics of drilling, screwing and plate application in fracture management. 

Bringing the theory alive

"We give them so much theory in the classroom: It's just theory, theory, theory," said Eva Schornbaum, a chemistry and biology teacher at SAMD for 13-19-year-olds. "But where is the link to real life? This is why the visit is so valuable. They see the theory in practice."

She then explained in broader terms the importance of community outreach initiative: "Some people have been living in Davos for years, and they're not totally sure what the AO does. They need to know that the AO is a gift for Davos, to have such an international and peaceful organization on our doorstep."

After the practical exercises, in which the students had to fix two types of breaks with the complete set of real instruments, there was a Skills Lab session, where they could test their abilities.

First, they had to determine the right length of screw for use in a given synthetic bone. Then, when drilling, they had to take care not to allow the heat of the bone to get too high. Finally, they had to ensure they did not drill through to the other side of the bone. 

Frightening at first

"It was a very interesting experience to see how surgeons are taught to fix bones and also to do it myself," said Jelle van Schagen, a 17-year-old student. "It's a good opportunity to see how this all works."

Jelle's classmate Fabia Castelmur found the experience a little intimidating at first.

"At first, I was frightened to use all these instruments but then I found it very interesting to see what doctors do in their everyday life. It was very funny to have a go at drilling."

For Isabella Perren, the experience was "important for our healthcare."

"It was a good opportunity for the future and to improve our skills. It was a good experience and I learned a lot."

A right to know

In an interview on the sidelines of the exercises, one of the founders of the AO Foundation, Peter Matter, shared his philosophy on community outreach.

"The value of the visit is that the community needs to understand about the presence of research, and many people may have a real interest in that," he said.

"We want to let them know what's going on at the Davos Courses and at the AO Center. They have a right to know and they should know."

The visit, held on Monday December 11, came a few days after the local primary school made a similar trip​

The AO Davos Courses are the world’s premier educational event in orthopedic and trauma surgery, gathering together hundreds of leading faculty to pass on essential knowledge to the next generation of surgeons and operating room personnel. 

Two dozen courses are on offer across the AO Foundation's clinical divisions and institutes.