Are Aspiring Surgeons Losing their Dexterity Skills in the Digital Age?

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01 Nov 2018

The BBC recently reported that medical students are ‘losing the dexterity to stitch patients’. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) has observed contrary evidence to this, through its wide-range of surgical skills engagement activities, in particular its national Student Surgical Skills Competition, taken at undergraduate level to showcase and enhance surgical skills of the next the generation of surgeons.

RCSEd President, Professor Michael Lavelle-Jones a previous winner of the Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT) Silver Scalpel Award which recognises excellence in surgical trainers, said:

“One of the main reasons our College launched the UK-wide National Surgical Skills Competition, was to provide opportunities for today’s medical students to get access to surgical skills training.   

“Possessing hands-on surgical skills is a key element for any aspiring undergraduate surgeon or indeed any surgeon in training. Our surgical competitions and our surgical skills workshops are challenging and rewarding events, which allow medical students to demonstrate their surgical capacities and practice their skills in an environment far closer to reality than any computer screen or textbook.

“This is now our fourth year running the competition, testing various surgical techniques - from suturing to laparoscopy - and it has certainly been evidential to us that participants who score highly with our dexterity challenges and our laparoscopic tests, are quite often those who in their pastimes enjoy computer games!”

Adding to this, Oxford-based consultant surgeon and Deputy Surgical Director of the RCSEd Advisory Network Mr Michael Silva said:

“RCSEd has been running nationwide surgical skills symposia and some excellent surgical skills workshops across the UK for undergraduates and surgical trainees for a number of years. From the events we have hosted and witnessed, we have been astonished at some of the superb dexterity skills showcased by today’s students and trainees.

“We are committed to nurturing and developing this talent and inspiring the next generation to pursuing a surgical career. The style of learning and techniques used to develop surgical skills today may be different from when I was in medical school or undergoing surgical training. There is emerging data in publications indicating that computer gaming experience enhances dexterity particularly laparoscopic skills.

“As surgery advances, we are dedicated to evolve our teaching and to support the best surgical training opportunities to the benefit of our profession. By improving surgical skills, we will ultimately produce better surgeons and achieve better surgical outcomes.”

Only 8% of all medical undergraduate students will eventually qualify as surgeons in one of the ten surgical specialties. Surgery is an incredibly competitive area, so being able to demonstrate the commitment and practical skills to become a surgeon at this early stage puts students at a great advantage later in their career.

The College’s groundbreaking Surgical Skills Competition is currently underway, with 19 heats taking place across all home nations this autumn / winter. Heats are held at each UK medical school with the winner of each heat receiving an invite to the Grand Final in Edinburgh in spring 2019.

Competing in the competition gives rare experience and has boosted the confidence of many medical students across the UK.  Recent Oxford University Medical School heat winner, Audrey Davies said:

The Surgical Skills Competition was a great chance to practice skills under pressure and get one-to-one supervision from senior consultants. I feel lucky to have a place in the National Final, and I am looking forward to going to Edinburgh in March. I know that exposure to different surgical skills and affiliation with the RCSEd will be a great way to start thinking about a career in surgery, both through the practical experience and also through meeting and speaking to people who know the field inside-out.

See more information on the RSCEd Surgical Skills Competition here


About The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

RCSEd was first incorporated as the Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1505, and is the oldest surgical corporation in the world with memberships approaching 25,000 professionals in over 100 countries worldwide. The College promotes the highest standards of surgical and dental practice through its interest in education, training and examinations, its liaison with external medical bodies and representation of the modern surgical and dental workforce. It is also home to the UK’s only Faculty of Surgical Trainers, open to all those with an interest in surgical training regardless of College affiliation. Find RCSEd on Twitter and on Facebook

The College is based at Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW and can be reached on (0)131 527 1600 or In March 2014, a new base opened in Birmingham, catering to the 80% of the College’s UK membership who are based in England and Wales.

For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Team on +447467 485145 or email 


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