On a warm summer morning in Wilmington, North Carolina,

an eighteen-wheeler pulled up to New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) and unfolded like a transformer, the phrase "Experience What's Next" emblazoned along the side. The day kicked off with a feeling of excitement among the hospital staff as the Ethicon team welcomed surgeons, administrators, and other healthcare professionals into this custom, state-of-the-art, fully functional surgical innovation lab on wheels.  

The stop in Wilmington was among the first of many for the Ethicon Surgical Innovations Lab. Its purpose? To help healthcare professionals keep up with the latest innovations in med tech during the pandemic. Beginning in May of 2021, the lab logged thousands of miles as it toured through more than 50 locations across America through November 2021.

In a time inundated with Zoom calls and PowerPoint presentations, immersive, hands-on learning experiences can be hard to come by. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for surgeons and other healthcare practitioners to travel for in-person learning. The Ethicon Surgical Innovations Lab sought to combat that by helping surgeons and hospitals stay current on the latest technologies and the science behind them — from the convenience of their own medical centers. 

Dr. Walter Gajewski, MD, a specialist in gynecological oncology, gynecology and robotic surgery, experienced the lab at its stop in Wilmington. He toured the facility with his team, allowing them to observe device demonstrations and participate in hands-on learning with the newest technologies for colorectal, bariatric, gynecological, and thoracic procedures.

"Since the pandemic started, it's been difficult to access new technologies and training," said Dr. Gajewski. "We haven't had the same opportunities for hands-on learning that we did before."

Ethicon representatives guided Dr. Gajewski and his team through interactive kiosks where everyone had the opportunity to try out the devices and speak one-on-one with engineers and researchers. The team’s small group interactions enabled highly engaged discussions about the technical aspects of the innovations and the potential to advance the standard of care.

A masked woman in black scrubs speaks with two masked women in blue scrubs at a table with brochures and informational materials

"You could do the cauterization and cutting and see how the instruments work in real tissue," Dr. Gajewski said. Working in these conditions, he explained, helps the team understand how well the instruments perform. 

By providing access to new technologies and a direct connection with Ethicon experts, opportunities like the Ethicon Surgical Innovations Lab can ultimately serve to help all healthcare practitioners deliver better patient care. This aspect of the tour is especially relevant to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, which has a unique focus on resident education.  

"The lab allowed for the residents in training to come out and see the instruments and work with them more than they normally would," said Dr. Gajewski. Residents may only spend a total of five months in an oncology rotation, which limits their experience with difficult surgery situations. "Since that exposure is pretty limited, this allows them to see the instruments and know what's out there as they start taking on their own surgical cases."

A masked woman in black scrubs holds a medical device and a light bulb at a table for a demonstration

Bringing programs like the Ethicon Surgical Innovations Lab directly to healthcare professionals helps providers more easily take advantage of the latest technology. "The advancement of these instruments is very important to keep up with. The Lab is one area that allows us to do that with more flexibility," said Dr. Gajewski.  

This effort to bring the latest advances directly to surgeons is part of Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices' commitment to advancing the future of surgery. Johnson & Johnson has a legacy of providing lifelong learning to those on the frontlines of care. The Ethicon Surgical Innovations Lab is one example of how the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies are helping healthcare practitioners improve their skills and knowledge, stay up to date on the latest technologies, and provide the best care possible for patients.

"I'm extremely grateful the lab came to Wilmington. Though we're a small city, education and training are a critically important focus for NHRMC," said Dr. Gajewski. "My team and I are driven by our passion to help our patients — the Ethicon surgical lab on wheels represents the kind of ingenuity that can help lead to better outcomes which is ultimately the collective motivation and end goal for us all."

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