Featuring Stephanie Kanupp, AAS, CST, Blue Ridge Community College, and Michelle Diaz, CST, Surgical Technology Program Director, Mohave Community College

There are many ways to prepare students for their clinical experience. Some programs have started using SynDaver, a detailed synthetic cadaver that gives students the ability to participate in mock surgeries. ARC/STSA reached out to Stephanie Kanupp, AAS, CST, and Michelle Diaz, CST, to talk about how their programs use SynDaver and their thoughts on the investment.

From Stephanie Kanupp, AAS, CST

Surgical Technology Instructor, Blue Ridge Community College

At Blue Ridge Community College, we started using “Zara” (our synthetic cadaver) in August 2017. North Carolina has a NCASTE (North Carolina Alliance of Surgical Technology Educators) which meets twice yearly. At one of the meetings, the SynDaver representative provided a demonstration of the product. I began to realize how beneficial having a synthetic cadaver would be to the program and to prepare students for clinical. After the NCASTE meeting I went back to my program advisory committee, who approved of the purchase, and my dean, who was able to allocate funds for the SynDaver.

The SynDaver fits into our curriculum during the first semester as we are preparing students for the clinical setting. Students practice setting up for various mock surgeries where they practice the role of the surgical technologist, circulator and (on occasion) surgical assistant. They are involved in the various surgeries as they would be in the real world. This helps prepare them for the clinical setting.

Most students have found this to be beneficial and are less nervous about going into the clinical setting, since they’ve had the opportunity to practice a variety of surgical procedures in advance. The surgeries normally experienced prior to the clinical setting are: hysterectomy, bilateral salpinoophorectomy, cholecystectomy, liver biopsy, bowel resection, appendectomy, breast biopsy and mastectomy.  We have found that utilizing Zara makes the learning experience more life-like and helps the students develop their skills through practice.

Students at Blue Ridge Community College practice with SynDaver.

Using the SynDaver also gives our students better hands-on experience, as they can work with realistic anatomy that they will encounter during their clinical case surgeries. Seeing, doing and feeling things that are more life-like help prepare students for the surgical technologist’s role. From the educator’s standpoint, it is beneficial to show the students something that is more realistic, rather than trying to explain or show pictures in a book or on a slide. Playing the “surgeon role” is also a fun experience.

While the SynDaver is a valuable tool for the program, it does take work to maintain. The SynDaver has to be cleaned every other week and will start to grow mold if not cleaned properly. We have found that flipping the body every other time helps prevent the anterior torso from growing mold, as that area is hard to fully submerge under water.

The SynDaver also requires yearly maintenance. This process takes a few weeks to ship the synthetic cadaver off and receive it back fully refurbished. I wouldn’t recommend getting the “upgraded” anatomy, as we paid extra this year and it was not as good as in previous years. The model also has a few minor anatomy issues that need to be updated — for example, the gallbladder wasn’t attached to the liver bed and the appendix wasn’t attached to the cecum correctly. On the whole, however, the SynDaver is highly realistic and a very useful pedagogical tool.


From Michelle Diaz, CST

Surgical Technology Program Director, Mohave Community College

At Mohave Community College, our lab was in desperate need of new mannequins. We had not been able to find anything that spoke to the needs of our program and students until recently. My faculty member and I first saw SynDaver at the AST Educators Conference in Charleston, SC. We had the opportunity to observe a hands-on demonstration with the model and walked away in awe.

The SynDaver was what we were looking for — an innovative, real-life learning mannequin — but thought it was out of our league for a community college. We continued searching for mannequins, but found nothing that compared to SynDaver.

Determined to make this a reality, I put through a request to purchase a surgical model with Perkins funds and started my narrative to present to our board of governors.

There were many considerations we had to plan for — storage, water changes, who would care for it when we were not on campus and refurbishing. For example, the model must be submerged in water when not in use. To accommodate this, we planned to purchase a submersion tank and build an advanced procedures room within the building to store it.

The submersion tank, however, holds 80 gallons and must be changed every two weeks. This volume of possible water waste was a legitimate concern for everyone. To help mitigate this, the presentation included a plan, agreed upon by our campus dean and facilities manager, to use a special filter during changes to repurpose the water for landscape on campus.

Students at Mohave Community College practice with a SynDaver.

After careful research and submission of the plan, I received a call from the administration inviting me to present the narrative to our Board of Governors. Before a panel of five, I discussed all components of SynDaver, showed a video, invited them to a demonstration and answered every question they had. I explained that there is nothing else like this on the market, and that this resource will take students in programs across the college — not just surgical technology — in an innovative direction, meeting the mission and goals of our institution. Mohave Community College Board of Governors unanimously approved the SynDaver for purchase.

When our model arrived, the sales engineer was on site to help unpack her. He walked us through everything and discussed how to properly care for her, so she lasts more than 20 years.

We will use this simulator in the classroom and lab. Students now have the ability to see anatomy, not just drawings or pictures in a book. They are able to work with a “patient” true to weight and learn positioning without fear of hurting a classmate or instructor. We also have the ability to perform specialty procedures, overall better preparing students for the operating room.