Reflection on RCSEd Surgical Skills Taster Event

On the 5th of March 2022, a Surgical Skills Taster Event was organised by the West Midlands Foundation Trainees’ Surgical Society (WMFTSS) in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd). Here is a reflection of the event.

The event was held at the RCSEd Birmingham Regional Centre, 85-89 Colmore Row, Birmingham. It is a building that is a stone throw away from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with a Neoclassical architectural design consisting of beautiful Corinthian columns! Like the ornate exterior, the interior of the building was just as exquisite and decorative, giving you the sense of grandeur and feeling of importance.

RCSEd Birmingham Regional Centre

This was a half-day taster event (0900-1230) aimed to provide attendees with the opportunity to experience a number of core surgical skills that are typically relevant at a Foundation Year level. The idea was for attendees to sample the various surgical skills to become more familiar with its concepts with the ultimate goal to boost confidence to attend a full-day surgical course in the future. The skills covered on the day included knot tying, incision of skin, simple interrupted suturing, horizontal and vertical mattress suturing, subcuticular suturing, excision of a sebaceous cyst, flexor tendon repair and simulated laparoscopic exercises. Quite a lot of skills covered in three hours!

I came in a bit early and had the opportunity to look at some of surgical items used in the past. The most intriguing was the surgical set consisting of various knives and saws that belonged to Robert Liston who was a Scottish surgeon known for his speed and skill in amputations, which was essential in a time before anaesthesia as it made a difference in terms of pain and survival. This earned him the nickname of “the fastest knife in the West End” with a reported time of 2.5 minutes to amputate a leg!

Simulated Laparoscopic Exercise – Moving the small black beans is trickier than it seems!

After a little waiting, all the attendees were introduced to the room where the surgical skills were taught. The attendees were divided into four stations with each station representing a different surgical skill set. Each attendee was provided with a pig’s trotter tied to a plastic cutting board that was to be used throughout the taster course.  However, as my first station was the laparoscopic exercise station, the pig’s trotter was left to be explored later.

The laparoscopic station was a test of dexterity as I had to stack sugar cubes on top of each other and move small black beans (without sliding them) to their designated location. It was difficult at first, but it was not long until you got used to the controls and were then able to move the pieces with ease. The second station was the flexor tendon repair station which was supervised by an orthopaedic surgeon. We were taught the modified Kessler technique for tendon repair and were given enough time to practise on the pig’s trotter. This was an incredibly interactive event also as we were asked to draw out the technique near the end of the session. The third station involved knot tying, incision of skin, excision of sebaceous cyst and subcuticular suturing. It was an incredibly exciting experience to be able to hold the needle holder and forceps again to suture the incised pig’s trotter. The pig’s trotter is a lot tougher than human skin so required a little bit more force to suture but otherwise was a realistic experience.

In the process of a vertical mattress suture

Finally, and perhaps my favourite part of the event, was the station where the attendees were given the opportunity to practise simple interrupted (commonly used to bring superficial skin wounds together under moderate tension), horizontal (commonly used for pulling wound edges together over a distance) and vertical mattress suturing (useful in wounds under tension and to evert wound edges). These are essentials to a surgeon’s arsenal of repairing various structures of the body and I was incredibly satisfied to know that I had understood and was able to carry out these basic procedures well. A pertinent reminder that practise makes perfect!

Overall, the half-day taster course was extremely useful for refreshing basic surgical skills and knowledge. The staff were friendly and always at hand to offer advice and help, providing a comfortable environment for learning. For those wishing to practise surgical skills or looking for some fun, I would thoroughly recommend attending this event!


Dr Yangmyung Ma is a FY1 doctor and the Founder of HYMS Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Society. He is also the current HYMS representative for British Foundation for International Reconstructive Surgery and Training (BFIRST) charity and aspires to be a Plastic surgeon. In his spare time, he enjoys playing music or sports.