The Future of Spine is Here: SERC | Orthopedics This Week

The Future of Spine is Here: SERC

SERC Surgical Lab/The NASS Spine Education and Research Center

NASS was aiming for the gold and they got it. The surgeons who created and are leading the charge to have the gold standard in orthopedic training facilities knew that to develop a center that would draw participants from around the globe, they needed to study what was…and create what was yet to come. From that mission, the North American Spine Society’s Spine Education and Research Center (SERC) was born.

Eric Muehlbauer, the Executive Director of the North American Spine Society (NASS), was there at the beginning. “One day in 2004 I was talking with Dr. Jean-Jacques Abitbol, then President of NASS, about the state of spine training in the U.S. We knew that there were a number of facilities and that each had different, sometimes impressive, offerings, but that none that brought the best ideas all under one roof. Dr. Abitbol, who is quite a visionary, assumed the challenge of creating just such an institution.”

Taking a cue from the business world, the thought leaders at NASS also took a deep breath…and went into debt. Muehlbauer notes, “NASS had never incurred debt before, but we went out on a limb and decided to follow the wisdom of a certain Harvard professor who says that if a nonprofit organization is trying to facilitate its mission, then it is appropriate to embrace some debt.”

With everything on the line, the leaders at NASS knew that they didn’t want to waste time creating a second-class entity. “At the outset, several of us toured other bioskills labs around the country in order to gather the best ideas."

As we moved through this process, we asked ourselves one basic question, ‘What is the optimal learning environment?’ Time and again our answer was, ‘Hands-on education.’

What this came to mean in a concrete sense was that the organizers had to plan for the appropriate set of resources for each participant. “You shouldn’t have too many doctors at any one bioskills station, ” says Muehlbauer. If it’s an injection course then having four to six physicians is fine, but if it’s a surgical course, then you want to limit it to two or three physicians. Through discussions with a number of people who had orchestrated hands-on courses we concluded that the maximum number of physicians you can train effectively at one time is about 40. Exceeding that number spreads your faculty too thin and makes it less likely that everyone will have a chance to get his or her questions answered.”

SERC Auditorium/ The NASS Spine Education and Research Center

Charles Branch Jr., M.D., former President of NASS, has been part of the growth of SERC. He notes, “I have never seen a facility quite as impressive as SERC."

"There are more than 100 seats in the tiered auditorium, with computer jacks and microphones for participants. When you speak into the microphone there is a video camera on the front wall that zooms in on you to produce the effect of a videoconference...and you can stream content anywhere in the world."

"For example, surgeons in Australia could watch a live training course along with the participants at SERC. The courses also can be viewed later online with a designated password.”

Dr. Branch adds, “Over the last several years SERC has become a highly utilized education and training facility. It is unique in that it crosses the multidisciplinary boundaries that NASS has embraced as a society. Along with surgical courses, we have physical therapy training, exercise courses, coding and reimbursement, etc. And it is pretty impressive that anyone who participates in these courses can walk out of the door at the end of the day with a DVD of the course in hand.”

“The SERC facility also is utilized by medical device companies and other medical societies who want to conduct didactic and hands-on training, ” says Eric Muehlbauer. “We have a well-trained lab staff and a significant amount of instrumentation that organizations may use, as well as 8 C-arms and an O-arm. Additionally, our highly skilled audiovisual technicians are available to assist with presentations in the auditorium and recording in the lab.”

As former participants have gone on to spread the word about SERC, the phone, says Muehlbauer, is ringing. “I have received inquiries from several organizations that are interested in replicating our processes and resources. Recently, the EuroSpine Foundation leadership visited the facility and had detailed discussions about what they would like to accomplish. Also, we just held a spine summit with 11 other medical societies. To any of these groups seeking to emulate our process or facility, I say, ‘Walk before you run. Attend a course at our facility to gather information on how we manage things.’”

Sometimes other organizations use SERC…and sometimes SERC staff “takes the show on the road.” Eric Muehlbauer: “I see this as a slow, but steady growth area for us as we augment our resources in the years to come. Our major push now is to expand the number of courses that we hold during the week (as most of them are currently held Friday to Sunday). This is growing, with several companies renting the facility for smaller courses, and bench testing of new instruments and devices as well as using it for calibration of diagnostic equipment and sales training. The bottom line is that SERC has a very high customer satisfaction rating. Once an organization or company utilizes SERC they usually come back because of the facility and the great customer service.”

Ray Baker, M.D., President of NASS, takes a broad part in the workings of the facility. He states, “I view my role at SERC as primarily one of strategic planning. In general, the executive committee at NASS is now more involved in oversight and strategic planning and less involved in day-to-day operations. In five years, I would like to see SERC extend beyond what has been viewed as traditional CME events (cadaver courses and meetings)."

I would like to see us host more webinars and distance learning programs where the equipment and expertise can be centered at SERC, but learners interact through online discussions and by viewing content over the internet.

"I also want to strongly push podcasts and other online content that can be an economic engine for NASS. The content can allow U.S. providers to obtain CME credits without traveling to SERC, and can also be a terrific way to allow international providers to be exposed to the latest treatments and techniques.

So as not to get off-track in spine, says Dr. Baker, NASS needs to get hip. “We must remain in step with our younger members, who are the future leaders in spine care. The Internet is much more important nowadays in social networking and in learning overall. NASS is committed to evolving with the needs of our members, and we are using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social networks to allow members to interact. We also are offering more Internet-based learning. All of this leverages the IT infrastructure, the equipment, and the expertise centered around SERC.”

The future—even busier than the present—demands the very qualities offered by the Spine Education and Research Center—flexibility and up-to-the-minute, credible information. Find this and more at SERC.  

Some of the features at the Spine Education & Research Center:
  • Auditorium with tiered-seating to accommodate 100+ guests
  • 3, 800 sq. ft. bio-skills lab with 12 fully-equipped work stations
  • Movable beds at each station
  • 14 ceiling-mounted LCD displays to view lead faculty procedures
  • Cutting-edge multimedia center including HD camera mounted in overhead light for main station
  • Didactic and lab recording capabilities
  • Certified CSTs and RTs
  • An O-arm for 3-D imaging and 8 C-arms
  • Sterilizer and instrument washer
  • 150 sq. ft. secured specimen storage
  • Availability of cadaver models to gain additional hands-on experience

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