There are advantages to being a left-hander in fields like baseball, where a pitcher throwing a ball from a different angle creates challenges for hitters.
But for left-handed surgical trainees, learning to use instruments that were made for right-handed users can be a challenge. Physicianeer Arunachalam hopes to use robotic technology to help left-handed trainees overcome that obstacle.
The Austin native decided to pursue the idea after meeting a thoracic surgeon, Dr. Edward Chan, at Houston Methodist Hospital. “He told me that there was really no effective way to teach a left-handed surgical trainee,” she said. “A left-handed resident would be expected to replicate the movements of their often right-handed attending (surgeons) without direct teaching.”
Like the general population, about 10–12 percent of surgeons are left-handed, and they can face significant technical challenges during training. The trainee’s situation is further complicated by the fact that left-handed instruments often are not readily available for use by residents and students. Many left-handed trainees end up switching to their non-dominant hand to use right-handed equipment. Arunachalam believes the robotics lab is the place to help left-handed surgeons by using robotic simulations of common tasks to decrease the effect of handedness on laparoscopic skills. The study is being reviewed by Houston Methodist Hospital’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Priya matched to Houston Methodist Hospital for a residency in general surgery. “Innovation in the medical field has always been a passion of mine,” she said, noting how much she enjoyed providing solutions for companies like Alcon, Pfizer, Gemstone Biotherapeutics, and Bayer prior to starting medical school. “I love how the EnMed program allows students to really engage in innovation at the intersection of medicine, engineering and business. It truly got me excited about continuing to do so as a surgical resident.”
Arunachalam, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and an MBA in healthcare management and entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, also served on the board of a nonprofit organization that connects medical students and professionals to service projects. Through the EnMed program, she has continued to come up with innovative solutions to healthcare problems.
In her spare time, Arunachalam enjoys promoting mental health, traveling, cooking, staying active, and reading. She also helps entrepreneurs develop pitches for their projects, using self-taught graphic design skills to develop presentations. “It’s a great side hustle that keeps me in touch with the startup world,” she said.