CHICAGO -- Carla Pugh, M.D. remembers her fluttery stomach before she had to do her first pelvic exam as a medical student. In fact, the exam provokes universal anxiety among students.
"Its tricky," said Pugh, 41, an assistant professor of surgery at Northwestern Universitys Feinberg School of Medicine. "The anatomy is complex, students are afraid they are going to hurt the patient, and there is a lot of embarrassment." The first prostate exam isnt far behind for provoking student jitters.
How do medical students know if they are being gentle enough? How can they figure out where all the important parts are when they cant see them?
Pugh, also an associate director of Northwesterns Center for Advanced Surgical Education, deftly solved those problems. She invented new teaching tools exam simulators with sensor technology -- to show students whether they have the right touch in these sensitive exams without a patient ever having to yell "Ouch!" When students place their hands inside the pelvic or prostate simulators, internal sensors measure their pressure and detect if theyre in the proper spot.
The pioneering sensor technology for the pelvic simulator is a patented product now being used by 60 nursing and medical schools around the country.
Pugh is one of 13 African-American surgeons in the country recognized for their accomplishments in an exhibit titled "New Frontiers In Academic Surgery" at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md. The exhibit honors black trailblazers and educators in contemporary medicine.
Another trail Pugh blazed was to help students perform better breast exams. "Breasts all look and feel different, so its hard to know whats normal," Pugh explained. "Breasts vary as much as facial features." She recently designed a breast with interchangeable inserts, enabling students to feel the many varieties of healthy tissue and worrisome masses.