CI MED Students' Anti-fatigue Vest Keeps Surgeons Operating at Their Best

February 8, 2023
Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

[figure="" width="800"]

A novel invention by students at Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED) is positioned to help surgeons combat fatigue during long or physically demanding procedures, ultimately helping them perform at their best.

<em>The surgical anti-fatigue vest supports the surgeons neck and provides user feedback. Photo by Kaden Rawson.</em>
The surgical anti-fatigue vest supports the surgeon's neck and provides user feedback. Photo by Kaden Rawson.

It's a new vest that supports a surgeon’s neck, tracks posture electronically, and provides feedback. It's designed to provide relief from postural fatigue after standing in a rigid position for hours at a time during surgery.

"With fewer work-related injuries, surgical professionals can hopefully take better care of themselves and their patients," Caywin Zhuang, CI MED student and co-lead on the project said.

<em>Caywin Zhuang</em>
Caywin Zhuang

Studies indicate that between 50 and 85 percent of practicing surgeons regularly experience musculoskeletal pain or discomfort in the back, neck, and shoulders. The strain puts them at increased risk for workplace injuries that can affect the surgeon's performance and, over time, lead to abbreviated careers. "It will be especially impactful for trainees in the OR to build good ergonomic habits early on, so that they can enjoy greater career longevity," Zhuang explained.

Zhuang and project partner Bara Saadah were inspired to create an ergonomic vest after spending time in clinic as medical students. "We identified this as a real problem among surgeons and wanted to innovate a solution," Saadah said. Now, their solution helps surgeons take control of their own health, combining both monitoring functions and supportive features in one product.

<em>Bara Saadah</em>
Bara Saadah

The vest is made of soft, flexible fabric with a special elastic strap that supports the surgeon's neck — one of the areas most affected by postural fatigue. By electronically tracking the surgeon's neck and shoulder positions, the vest can objectively measure posture and prompt the surgeon to change position when their posture becomes unhealthy. Periodic changes in position, called 'micro-breaks,' are among the best methods of combating fatigue, so the new system includes a vibrating 'reminder' function that signals the surgeon when it's time to take a break and stretch out their muscles.

Surgical specialists who perform very long surgeries, such as neurosurgery, may benefit from the new tool. The vest is not only tailored for the surgeon's comfort but also for the unique operating room environment. "For instance, it is easily worn on top of existing scrubs/caps and within the surgical gown" Zhuang said. The vest is also compatible with the sterile environment required in an operating room.

The team plans to expand on their current prototype — developed in collaboration with Illinois Bioengineering students — to include more interactive user controls and an accompanying app that allow surgeons to track their own posture over the course of a surgery and to customize the alert features to meet their individual preferences.

The surgeon posture correction and measuring device is one of the Capstone Innovations proposed by the future physician innovators in Carle Illinois’ Class of 2023. In the final phase of Carle Illinois' engineering-based, innovation-oriented curriculum, fourth-year students research a problem identified during their clinical rotations, propose a solution, and then work with a cross-disciplinary team, including engineering students from The Grainger College of Engineering, to develop a new prototype or process that will potentially change the practice of medicine and improve patient outcomes. M.B.A. candidate Vaishnavi Ganesh is assisting with the business plan for this project. Bioengineering students Victoria Kindratenko, Clara Lynk, and Noah Chiou, along with Drashti Sikligar and John Halaka (MEng) worked to develop a prototype. The Class of 2023 will present their final project designs in May, just prior to graduation.

Capstone Innovations are supported by The Henry Dale and Betty Smith Family.


Share this story

This story was published February 8, 2023.