Imagine a 120,000 square-foot medical institute, equipped with state-of-the-art experimental labs, with a networked team of 800 of the best minds in the medical field dedicated to training approximately 5,000 surgeons from around the world each year. The surgeons are learning the latest techniques in minimally invasive and hybrid surgery.
This medical institute is not in Silicon Valley, not even in the United States, but in Strasbourg, France.
Meet IRCAD Laparoscopic Training Center, a nonprofit educational institute based on the campus of Strasbourg’s University Hospital. The Institute was founded in 1994 by Professor Jacques Marescaux, who foresaw the shift from the industrial to computer era, and captured the opportunity to leverage technology to revolutionize healthcare. He stunned the world in 2001, when, sitting at a robotic console in New York City, he removed the diseased gallbladder of a patient located in Strasbourg, France. As I’ve joked with Jacques that this was the most expensive choleycystectomy, he proved his point: robotics can play a critical role in the future of medicine.
This summer, I had the privilege to visit, present and teach at IRCAD. It was my twelfth trip to the Institute, which I consider a home away from home. As always, I was astounded by the work, progress and innovation generated by the Institute. As I reflect on my trip, three lessons really stand out:
- Never stop learning. I have always been a huge proponent of education, and spending time at IRCAD reinforced my belief. Riding my bike to the campus from my college-like flat, with my briefcase that had become a backpack, I felt like I was back in graduate school. While the purpose of my attendance was to educate others, I took away just as much. When you have 800 plus of the top medical, engineering and research minds brainstorming ideas of how to advance image guided surgical platforms, it is formidable to see the vast array of solutions being formulated and the supporting technology developed.
- Technological advancements will never end. Just as you begin thinking that nothing more can possibly be invented, someone comes up with a better idea and new solution to a problem. At IRCAD, they are working to develop and perfect several devices that really caught my interest: a flexible, steerable endoscope that can track to eye movements, which would restore vision control to the surgeon, hands free; and the next generation of augmented reality technology, merging pre-op CT/MRI images with real time visual images.
- Never become complacent. While Silicon Valley and the U.S. have been innovation leaders, other countries in the world are not too far behind, and in some ways, may even be surpassing us. We don’t have anything close to an IRCAD-like institute here in the U.S., nor the kind of private and public partnerships from which both are financially benefitting. Since its inception, IRCAD has acquired a reputation of excellence in research and teaching of new surgical techniques. Through their online teaching courses, they are training over 300,000 students and physicians on the best minimally invasive surgical techniques, free of charge, in six languages.
Innovation is in our country’s DNA. By continually exposing ourselves to new concepts, new people and new technologies; by continuing to push the boundaries to seek better ways to solve critical health issues; and by forging partnerships with governmental bodies and private entities to support and facilitate our work, we can strengthen or arguably, regain, our position as global innovation leader.