Award-Winning Simulation Online

Madeline Harlow, MSc, was awarded the 2020 Best Product Engineer by Products By Women for her innovative concept developed during the COVID pandemic.

Watch the video below for an overview of this solution and read on as we interviewed Madeline about her journey from idea to product.


What was your motivation for creating a new product?

VirtaMed is a medical education company, and our expertise is in developing surgical simulators to improve a physicians' cognitive and psychomotor skills. Before the pandemic, we combined these teaching elements into hands-on mixed reality simulators - which are still the best in the world! But as the COVID pandemic arrived, we heard that many surgeons were not able to gather for hands-on training and, moreover, their other training opportunities were being reduced. We needed to reinvent ourselves for the COVID and post-COVID era. 

What sparked the initial idea?

A year ago we went into home office and held our first virtual meeting between Product Managers, Training & Education Specialists, and other colleagues in the Commercial team. We asked ourselves, “how can we create meaningful training solutions when hands-on surgical training is not possible?”

We focused on the cognitive learning goals and, using the medical knowledge and virtual reality graphics that we already have in our simulators, I created a first prototype. The rest already feels like history.

What is your unique solution?

I’ve created an online educational tool focused on clinical decision making. Now users can log in from anywhere, on their phones or computers, and practice surgical procedures. They can learn theory, conceptual skills, make clinical decisions and observe their consequences. This is especially powerful when it comes to mistakes – the resident physician can make mistakes and learn from them without harming a patient.

The ‘ah-ha’ moments you get from making a mistake are hard to achieve in conventional ways. For example, with cadaver training once you make the mistake you can’t always undo it to try again, or when watching medical videos or teaching animations, they tend to focus on the correct procedure and say what not to do, but cannot show the result of that mistake. Moreover, expert advice, tips and tricks, as well as any other media can all be added to provide a well rounded and autonomous learning experience. This is also good for the instructor as it will help residents be more prepared once they finally get to the training facility or OR and use that time more efficiently.

What does the new normal look like?

Creating a product under the pandemic conditions was an enlightening and experimental experience, but it is just the beginning. Beyond 2021 will be an exhilarating time as we see that we make an impact in surgical training. Our strategy is to go out fast and get medical feedback from trainees and experts to improve this solution. 

Looking back, I am so glad I joined that initial brainstorming and was supported by so many colleagues that shared the vision to find solutions for surgical training. That one idea certainly changed my life and I am confident it can improve many others as well.