Student Highlight – Irene Suh was born in Seoul, Korea, and immigrated to the United Sates in 1994. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in UNMC’s COPH, with a focus on occupational health, under the guidance of Dr. Ka-Chun Siu. Specifically, her research focuses on how to reduce the effects of distraction on surgical performance using feedback training. Irene says that her doctoral program in the COPH gives her “a broader opportunity to expand my research interests in both patient safety and surgical errors due to fatigue in the operating room.”
Before attending graduate school at UNMC, Irene was a teaching assistant in mathematics at UNO. She is currently involved in multidisciplinary research work in robot-assisted surgery through the UNMC Center for Advanced Surgical Technology, using both her computer science and her mathematical background to develop a better training environment for surgeons to reduce surgical errors and promote patient safety. Through the robotic surgery project, Irene has gained a deeper understanding of various fields in occupational health, computer science, and health engineering. New explorations into occupational biomechanics and medical science in surgery at UNMC have given her the opportunity to use state-of-the-art surgical robots and simulation software. In 2010, Irene was awarded a $10,000 fellowship from the NASA Nebraska Space Grant Award for a project to investigate the impact of distraction on remote surgical skills learning in telemedicine. Irene says that she “found that environmental distractions have a significant negative impact on robotic surgical skills performance, and training with distractions has the potential to reduce such impact. To develop strategic programs in surgical education, it is essential to understand how surgeons respond to environmental distractions while performing surgery.” Irene’s success in this research area earned her recognition and support by the NASA Nebraska Space Grant again in 2011. Since 2007, Irene has authored or coauthored 12 peer-reviewed journal articles, 17 posters, and 11 oral presentations with Dr. Siu in several scientific seminars and conferences.
After graduation, Irene hopes to contribute her strong academic knowledge, technical skills, and other significant talents to science. Her ultimate career goal is to become a well-rounded researcher and an educator. Irene plans to stay involved with cross-disciplinary research teams, including basic scientists, clinical scientists, and public health professionals, and to continue to develop curricula for surgical trainees that will help to ensure patient safety. In addition to her role as a COPH doctoral student, Irene also enjoys her role as a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister.