FORT MOHAVE — A group of local students spent the last two weeks examining Valley View Medical Center from top to bottom, checking out every facet of the hospital’s operations.
Their two-week internship, part of the Multiple Avenues for Successful Healthcare program, included a presentation on hip and knee replacements from Dr. Robert Lock, an orthopedic surgeon with Tri State Orthopedic Institute in Bullhead City.
Lock and his assistant, Liza Hutchins, brought simulated body parts, performed a pair of walk-through procedures, and let the students try their hand as well.
Lock discussed considerations that come into play concerning surgeries, and about how the practice has changed.
One change has been the advent of muscle-sparing surgery, brought on by improved dissection techniques, which has shortened recovery time.
A patient walks within three hours of most procedures, he said, and goes home the next day with a small incision.
Another change is total joint replacement with computer-assisted navigation.
The hip replacement demonstration the students saw involved Lock using penlike devices to digitally map a pelvis, making for greater accuracy in taking measurements needed for the procedure.
The computer-assisted navigation is especially useful, he said, for surgeons who place the patient on his or her back for the procedure.
He said that although hip replacements came first (knee replacements didn’t come into their own until the 1970s), surgeons today perform about three times as many knee operations.
Lock said he performs 300 to 350 joint replacements a year.
He talked about the materials used in replacement parts and explained that patients rarely reject artificial hips or knees, because they are not registered by the body’s immune system as foreign, which is why organ recipients need to take anti-rejection drugs.
Replacement joints are usually titanium or cobalt chrome, Lock said. A patient’s bone will actually grow into the titanium, which he said is the “permanent” fix. That takes three to six months, he said — longer for smokers because of diminished blood flow to the extremities.
Besides joint replacement, Lock said, he also treats fractures and carpal tunnel syndrome.
In response to a question about why he chose orthopedic surgery, Lock said that while he was an intern in Phoenix, he “hung out with orthopedic surgeons and thought they were cool.”
“The surgery saws, hammers and drills looked like great fun,” he said.
Lock said that at every specialty he experienced during his rotation, he felt like he wanted to be that type of doctor, but that the science of orthopedics and joint replacement won him over.
He also told the students about medical school and the long process of becoming a doctor. Lock said that for him, there were 14 years of education after high school — four years of undergraduate studies, four years of medical school, an internship, a residency and a fellowship.
The hardest part of medical school, Lock said, is “the sheer volume of material you have to digest at one time.”
Erika Hiestand, a senior-to-be at Mohave High School, said that she found the program interesting and a help as she moves toward a career as a nurse or physical therapist. She said she was particularly impressed by VVMC’s staff giving the students a lot of hands-on learning opportunities.
Kaylee Willis, a Needles High School senior-to-be, said the two weeks opened her eyes to future possibilities.
“I’ve really learned what I wanted to do,” said Willis, who said she had been thinking about going into nursing or medical aesthetics. “Now, I’m super-interested in OB/GYN or something to do with radiology.”
She said that witnessing the delivery of a baby by caesarean section was shocking in how quickly the process went.
Taylor Evans graduated from River Valley High School in May. Her long-term goal is to work as a surgeon, and she said the MASH program has helped her clear up one really important question.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it,” Evans said, “because I heard so many bad stories.”
Lock said the students were very engaged and enthusiastic.
“They showed interest in a wide variety of medical specialties,” he said. “They were interested in absorbing everything the possibly could.”
MASH coordinator Lisa Townsend said Valley View participates as a way of giving back to the community and in hopes of inspiring young people to consider entering the medical field, and perhaps come back to serve the community.
“It’s very rewarding to work with (the MASH students),” Townsend said. “To see their faces light up when they discover something that they’re really interested in.”
She said the program has injected some of the more shy participants with new confidence.
The students graduated Friday; each received a certificate. They also left with memories their peers are unlikely to find.
“I thought (the C-section) was the coolest thing in the world,” Evans said. “I got to see life brought into the world.”å