Passing the Scalpel Event Inspires a New Generation of Surgeons

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

If you have ever been a spectator in an operating-room procedure, you know that most likely you will be squeezed into the corner with your arms tucked in, trying not to touch anything, doing your best to not get in anyone’s way, standing on your tiptoes trying to see an inch-long incision and wishing you had created X-ray goggles to see through people blocking your view.

The inaugural evening of Passing the Scalpel (, a student-created initiative by two second-year dental students, Allen Huang and Brian Lee, proved to be a very different experience. The event provided a relaxed educational environment where the spectators could get up close to the surgeries, ask questions and obtain knowledge from experienced surgeons, and get to know faculty and residents on a personal level.

Last Thursday, after a brief dinner and an overview of the surgeries to be performed, over 50 dental students scrubbed into the new medical anatomy lab to witness procedures that most students never knew existed. In the presence of UCSF oral and maxillofacial surgery faculty members Dr. Brian Bast and Dr. Janice Lee, chief residents Dr. Stanley Liu and Dr. Chirag Patel performed breathtaking procedures on a fresh unfixed cadaver head. Using real surgical equipment donated by Synthes, they replicated the operating-room environment as closely as possible.

Imagine for the first time seeing half of a scalp peeled off a skull to do a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) procedure, or seeing the maxilla entirely mobile, after it has been sawed from the face for a bi-jaw advancement. As they witnessed five different procedures, ranging from fractures to face-lifts, students got a real sense of what six years of oral and maxillofacial residency training can accomplish.

The positive responses to the event were overwhelming.

A first-year dental student, with newly inspired fervor for oral and maxillofacial surgery, called it “the coolest thing I have been a part of since joining UCSF.”

The atmosphere was “buzzing with excitement … all the surgeries were truly amazing to witness,” said  Neek LaMantia, also a first-year dental student, who added that she felt really fortunate to have “such an amazing opportunity.”.

A “truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” was the verdict of one international dental student, echoing the sentiments of many who were able to attend.

This event is a great example of how a UCSF student’s idea can become a reality with support from the UCSF community. Even in these times of budget crunches, various UCSF departments, including the School of Dentistry’s Dean’s Office, the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of Career and Professional Development and the Chancellor’s Endowment Fund were able to fund everything necessary for the event. Through careful planning and organizational help from Dr. Michael McMaster, the event was brought to a whole new level of jaw-dropping — no pun intended — impressiveness.

With inspiration and guidance from Dr. Liu and the rest of the UCSF Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, this was not only a night of education, but also a night of inspiration for 50 dental students.