Thankfully nowadays, medical and nursing students have better options for practicing their surgical skills than jumping straight from observation into stitching up patients or fellow students. A range of suture training tools have emerged to allow for better training practices and opportunities for simulation-based learning. Unfortunately, the market is saturated with subpar practice materials for suture training – not all suture pads are made the same.
Too many low quality suture pads fail to provide students with the realism necessary to adequately prepare them to make the leap from training to human suturing. As we’ve discussed before, there are significant benefits to scaffolding student learning – gradually working up to more complex skills before practicing on live patients. Practicing on pigs’ feet or banana peels is definitely better than a fellow student, but nothing compares with a high quality suture training kit.
There are a number of factors to consider when screening a suture training pad for quality. Looking at the materials, the feel and texture of the practice skin, and the durability of the product are just some of the key determinations of a quality training tool. Low quality suture pads not only yield a subpar student experience, they also result in higher overall costs, since many aren’t reusable and don’t provide the layering necessary for more advanced techniques.
Below are just some of the ways in which high quality suture pads compare to subpar alternatives.
Low quality suture pads are often greasy, plastic, and made of foam rather than premium silicone. Setting aside the fact that these materials feel nothing like a lifelike texture, they are also just fundamentally unpleasant to work with. Foam feels clearly artificial, and the greasy sensation of some low quality pads is downright repulsive.
Some suture pads we’ve encountered are delivered in a cardboard box marred by grease stains on the top and sides where the pad touches. This is both unseemly and unpleasant. It’s also an indication that the suture pad itself will likely end up feeling slimy to the touch.
Other low quality suture pads have a thick top layer of ¼-inch plastic-like material that feels nothing like skin. This unrealistic material is very challenging to cut through, which leads to improper technique when practicing. Without training on lifelike materials, students techniques will result in poor outcomes for patients.
High quality suture pads are significantly more lifelike – from the soft feel of the epidermal layer to the realism of the subcutaneous fat and fascia layers beneath. Texture should be a key factor in selecting an appropriate suture practice skin.
Quality of Material
In addition to the problem of general texture, lower quality pads will often use lower quality materials. Unless a practice skin is made of medical grade silicone, it won’t stand up well to the necessary incisions and punctures that suture practice entails.
Low quality materials typically lead to higher instances of “chunking” where large pieces of silicone are pulled out of the pad entirely when the suture is pulled tight. The result of chunking looks like you cut a perpendicular divot in the pad where the suture should hold. Consequently, students are ill prepared to apply appropriate amounts of pressure in actual suturing.
A high quality silicone suture pad should offer the right amount of tension and resistance to hold up to a normal degree of pulling. Higher quality materials also allow students to continue to practice on the same pads without having to work around cumbersome gashes in the test material.
In addition to the general top layer of the suture pad, it’s important to consider the additional layers and the materials they are made from. Some pads use foam as the core material with a thin layer of silicone on top. This material is cheap, but not lifelike. Others use multiple layers of silicone but do not reinforce the facia layers appropriately. Consequently, these pads don’t allow for a second layer of closure and practice in placing buried sutures.
Buried sutures are an important technique for students to learn because they yield better cosmetic results and healing for the patient. A truly high quality suture training tool will have layering that is lifelike enough to allow students to practice suturing below the first facia layer.
Number of Uses
This should go without saying, but too many low quality products out there are simply not reusable. These practice skins yield a mere one or two uses before they tear, rip, chunk, or degrade. That means fewer overall sutures and significantly less practice for a student.
On a quality, reusable suture training pad, a student should be able to get a minimum of 750 sutures. On SurgiReal’s standard 3-layer pad, a student should be able to make 5 incisions and place 10 sutures in each incision, 15 times. That means 15 opportunities to suture the incision closed, remove the sutures, and do it again without issue.
Low quality suture pads, although often less expensive up front, are ultimately more expensive in the long term. If a suture pad isn’t reusable, that means students can place significantly fewer sutures. In order to practice more, a student would have to purchase a second, or even a third practice skin – which is frustrating, wasteful and inefficient.
Ultimately, the ability to place fewer sutures in a practice skin means the long-term cost of the suture training pad is higher than the price point might make it seem. When considering a suture pad, it’s important to calculate the cost per suture. How many sutures can be placed in the product before it has to be replaced? Unless that number is in the several hundreds, then you’re probably better off looking for a higher quality product.
Quality of Instruments Included with Kits
Finally, beyond the quality of the suture practice skin itself, many suture training kits offered come with equally subpar instruments: needle drivers that do not close, scalpels that dull after only a couple of uses, scissors that are not smooth when they open and close, etc.
At SurgiReal, we are very proud to offer instruments that are as high quality as the suture pads we create. In our all-inclusive suture training kits, the instruments included are top notch. Our kits come with needle drivers that completely close, scalpels that continue to stay sharp after multiple uses, and scissors that are smooth when they open and close. Even the packaging for our suture training kits was designed to withstand the rigors of the daily travel between home and class.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. Low quality suture practice materials end up costing you more in the long run and yield poor student experiences. The good news is that our high quality suture practice pads are affordable, accessible and incredibly realistic.