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Cedars-Sinai's Team Leads the Next Generation of Thoracic Robotic Surgeons Into the Future of Medicine


Cedars-Sinai is one of the busiest thoracic surgery programs in the western U.S. and ranks among the busiest in the country for robotic thoracic surgery. That volume, driven by exceptional surgeons and the robotic resources available, has enabled Cedars-Sinai to become not only a premier institution for patients to receive care, but also for surgeons to obtain training in advanced robotic procedures.

"With our division performing such high-quality, high-volume robotic surgery, we have been able to establish a dedicated advanced robotic thoracic fellowship to help train the next generation of robotic surgeons, as well as already-established surgeons, on how to perform advanced robotic surgery."

Robotics education at Cedars-Sinai

Taryne A. Imai, MD

Taryne A. Imai, MD

The high volume of cases at Cedars-Sinai provides ample opportunity to observe and learn from world-class surgeons. The medical center serves as a national and international case observation site for advanced thoracic robotic surgery.

Cedars-Sinai provides trainees with unmatched access to robotic technologies, educational opportunities and expert educators. With a multimillion-dollar simulation center, housing two robotic simulators and additional access to a simulator in the robotic surgery center, Cedars-Sinai residents, fellows and surgeons have 24/7 access to learn and improve their robotic techniques.

Cedars-Sinai also hosts a quarterly robotics surgery boot camp featuring the most innovative robotics technologies available. The lifelike, experience-based training increases surgeons' technical mastery and, even more importantly, helps to provide safe training for surgeons and ultimately improves patient safety. Cedars-Sinai is currently one of only a handful of hospitals in the country providing these types of opportunities.

Taryne A. Imai, MD, executive director of simulation in Surgery, knows the importance of building a strong training program.

"We are committed, through simulation combined with an extensive robotics education program, to providing the highest standards for patient safety at a teaching institution," says Imai. "Residents and fellows jump on the robotics platform and perform the surgeries on porcine lungs to better prepare for cases in the operating room."

The breadth and depth of robotic surgery expertise at Cedars-Sinai was another driving factor for the institution's designation as one of just a few peer-to-peer learning programs in the country. As such, Cedars-Sinai hosts other hospitals and teaches them to set up a robotic surgery program of their own.

Those who can, teach

Harmik J. Soukiasian, MD

Harmik J. Soukiasian, MD

Ensuring fellows and surgeons can train with the most experienced robotic surgeons on the newest, most up-to-date equipment ultimately means better outcomes for more patients. In addition to an unparalleled collection of technology, Cedars-Sinai is home to one of the leading thoracic robotic surgeons in the U.S.

Harmik J. Soukiasian, MD, vice chair of Surgery, Clinical Outreach, has been a driving force in bringing the robotics program to fruition at Cedars-Sinai. As a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) robotics scholarship committee, Soukiasian is committed to equipping the next generation of surgeons with the tools they need to meaningfully move the field of thoracic surgery—and robotics—forward. He regularly organizes and leads lung surgery symposiums and other workshops to connect trainees with the best and brightest minds in thoracic surgery.

"We have a passion and strong drive for advancing robotic surgery on a national and international level. Our high surgical volume, academic incorporation of robotics, publications and teaching set Cedars-Sinai apart from other institutions," says Soukiasian, who is also director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and the Tawil Family Chair in Thoracic Surgery.

Soukiasian treats lung and esophageal cancer as well as benign esophageal disease, such as hiatal hernias, all via robotics. Being one of the highest volume robotic thoracic surgeons in the country, he is an ideal mentor to host case observerships. Physicians wanting to learn or hone their robotics skills fly to Los Angeles from around the country to observe Soukiasian perform advanced robotic procedures, such as robotic lobectomies, segmentectomies, totally robotic esophagectomies and other robotic procedures.

"This is possible because we have a high volume of robotics procedures, with unfettered access to the robot. We are able to run dedicated thoracic robotic operating rooms five days, two of which have two robotic operating rooms running concurrently, for a total of seven operating rooms a week of robotic surgery. It is quite extraordinary," says Soukiasian.

Cedars-Sinai is committed to staying at the forefront of robotic technology and has recently unveiled an innovative, robotic-assisted endoluminal platform for navigational bronchoscopy and minimally invasive peripheral lung biopsy. Imai spearheads this effort and is passionate about continuing to build on the excellence of the surgical education program at Cedars-Sinai. So passionate, in fact, that she is currently pursuing a master's in education in addition to her clinical and academic roles at Cedars-Sinai.

Cedars-Sinai already leads the country in procedures performed on the new platform and is the first and only program in the country with two of these systems. As such, the division intends to begin case observerships on the new robotic-assisted endoluminal platform with Imai leading this part of the training course.

Read: Leading the Way in Innovative Robotic Technologies to Improve Outcomes, Shorten Recovery Time

The next generation of robotic surgeons

As important as establishing and maintaining excellence in the areas of thoracic surgery and robotics, so is ensuring the future success of surgeons across the field. Because of Soukiasian's clinical reputation and high volume of thoracic robotic surgeries, he was awarded an unrestricted educational grant to fund a dedicated advanced thoracic robotic surgery fellowship at Cedars-Sinai, beginning in 2021.

"With our division performing such high-quality, high-volume robotic surgery, we have been able to establish a dedicated advanced robotic thoracic fellowship to help train the next generation of robotic surgeons, as well as already-established surgeons, on how to perform advanced robotic surgery," says Soukiasian. "We're not just teaching lung and esophageal surgery. We're teaching trainees how to be facile surgeons with the robot, to be thoughtful in their case selection and, most importantly, to apply safe surgical techniques when using the robot to ensure optimal patient outcomes."