Johnson Center grooms surgeons using simulations

San Antonio (June 21, 2007) – Today’s surgical techniques differ greatly from those performed 50 years ago and are even substantially different from those of a decade ago. While less-invasive techniques such as laparoscopies have benefited patients, they have complicated the education of young surgeons because of the difficulty, and potential danger, of teaching them in the operating room setting. That’s why a new surgical education and skills center unveiled today at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is so important.

The Stewart M. Johnson and Hugh M. Johnson Center for Surgical Innovation honors the memory of Dr. Stewart M. “Skeet” Johnson (1939-2004), and his son, Hugh M. Johnson (1979-2004). Dr. Johnson was one of the first Health Science Center surgical residents (1970), and was personally committed to providing clinical training for students, residents and fellows throughout his medical career. He and his son died in November 2004 in the crash of a small plane near San Antonio International Airport. They were returning with three others from a hunting trip in Kansas.

At today’s event, Health Science Center faculty and residents presented a demonstration of the center’s fully functional mock operating room and trauma area, as well as simulation equipment including human patient manikins and high-fidelity virtual reality simulators.

“The training for image-guided surgery, which includes laparoscopy and endoscopy, in a low-stakes environment and in a controlled situation is the appeal to it,” said Kent Van Sickle, M.D., director of the Johnson Center for Surgical Innovation and assistant professor of surgery at the Health Science Center. “The advantage is to learn a procedure outside the O.R. in a lab setting, so that a doctor performing the procedure for the first time on a patient will have done it many times in the lab first.”

Dr. Van Sickle said the new facility, funded by more than $350,000 in private donations and $500,000 from the Health Science Center department of surgery, will enable department of surgery faculty and other researchers to study the effectiveness of simulations in improving surgical efficiency and safety. The Johnson Center also can be used to identify individual surgeons who may take longer to acquire skills in the formative learning stages and therefore will need additional simulation-based training.

Dr. Johnson’s widow, Jan, said her husband loved laparoscopy and other new approaches to surgery, and helped train residents from the School of Medicine. The Johnson Center is “something I felt would keep his vision alive, to carry it to young doctors and their patients,” she said. “His life will always touch others’ lives. We had a really tragic experience, but we wanted to make something positive out of it. My son was just out of the Marine Corps., was a pre-med student and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. This center is a tribute to both of them.”

Mrs. Johnson said her husband would be happy with the center because he loved surgical gadgetry. “This is Skeet Johnson,” she said of it.

Dr. Johnson was a San Antonio native. He met his wife, a surgical intensive care unit nurse, in Vietnam, she said. The Johnson Center therefore represents both their career interests.

The department of surgery, the Johnson family and members of the J. Bradley Aust Surgical Society collaborated in the creation of the center.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $536 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $14.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, click on

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