Urology’s future begins at school

Mon, 8 Aug 2011

The Strategy Office of the EAU will soon publish a paper entitled “The Future of Urology.” Besides recruitment to urology the paper addresses urological undergraduate and post graduate education, two of the key points which are crucial for the future development of the specialty.

Recruitment is essentially dependent on how urology is promoted within the medical community and in public. Medicine has its role models in the media but they belong to specialties other than urology. Hardly any undergraduate student starting out at medical school considers urology as the first career choice. Urology has an image problem. It is not sexy, although many times it deals with sexual issues. The prejudiced perspective of a profession connected to urine and old men prevents many from considering urology.

On top of that, undergraduate urological education is rudimentary in quite a few European countries with a quarter of all European medical students not receiving any formal urological training. As a result, many talented young doctors, who might additionally have the potential for future leadership, do not pursue a career in urology. Obviously, urologists have to start promoting their specialty to a target group much younger than medical graduates.

Theory into practice

An example of how to put theory into practice has been shown at last year’s congress of the German Society of Urology (DGU) in Düsseldorf. On the occasion of the congress, and during the EAU-led initiative “Urology Week,” school children from the age of 15 were invited to learn about urology. “Become a urologist for one day” was the promotional slogan for around 120 students from local schools in the wider Düsseldorf-area.

On two separate days the high school students attended lectures about urology including a hands-on-training class in basic surgical skills. While one group of students practiced suturing techniques using bananas and bacon, others learned how to perform a cystoscopy by looking for gummy bears trapped inside a bell pepper. Sonography, laparoscopy and TUR were also included in the course programme.The underlying goal for the course was based on the well-known fact that good hand-eye coordination is crucial in achieving effective surgical techniques.

Moreover, there are advantages when students start to train and learn these coordination skills at an earlier age or stage. It has been shown that video-gaming surgeons perform better at laparoscopy. With today’s advanced data techniques and video consoles, virtual surgery for everyone seems to be just around the corner, and children can role-play as doctors or surgeons not only using plastic stethoscope and bandages, but employing these sophisticated digital-based computer techniques that can sharpen their motor skills.

The event attracted a lot of media attention confirming that the future of urology begins at school. For 2011, plans are underway to repeat last year’s success at the DGU congress in Hamburg. “Become a urologist for one day” is the German Society of Urology’s (DGU) contribution to the EAU’s “Urology Week.” The Strategy Planning Office supports the initiative and invites all European urological societies to incorporate urology classes for school kids into their Urology Week programmes.

Investment Approaching school kids is an investment in the future of urology. It is not only about presenting urology as one of the most exciting and fast-developing specialties in medicine. It is about competition for the brightest minds and dedicated people with leadership potential. Although this effort will not pay off for perhaps in the next 10 years, initiatives like this has to be done now.

Urology is dependent upon new dedicated leaders who are willing to deal with the challenges our specialty will face in the years to come. Therefore, the future of urology not only begins at school but continues throughout medical school, residency and even later. Another example is the DGU’s systematic promotion of young urologists. The “Junior-Academy” will offer its first classes at the DGU congress in Hamburg in September.

During the classes young urologists will be informed about their residency and career opportunities. Organisers have also invited heads of urological departments to participate to make the project a success story.

Author’s Note

For more information about the “Junior-Academy” please contact: Prof. Dr. Joachim Steffens, St.-Antonius-Hospital, Klinik für Urologie und Kinderurologie, Dechant-Deckers-Str. 8, 52249 Eschweiler, Germany, phone: +49 2403 76 12 61, e-mail: alexandra.wester@sah-eschweiler.de For details about the programme “Become a urologist for one day,” contact the author of this article.