Steven Nurkin, MD, MS, FACS, performed his first robot-assisted surgery (RAS) eight years ago.
On April 21, 2021, he concluded his 500th procedure, operating on a patient with colon cancer.
“I saw the promise and what it had to offer complicated cases,” says Dr. Nurkin, who has completed more robot-assisted surgeries for colon and rectal cancer than any other doctor at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “These were for 500 complex gastrointestinal cancers or precancerous conditions. Roswell Park really is one of the leaders in robotic surgery for cancer.”
While not all patients are eligible for robotic surgery, it’s an important option in a surgeon’s toolbox, he says. Using the da Vinci robot for surgery can be most helpful when the procedure will be done in a tight location, such as the pelvis, Dr. Nurkin explains. A male patient with a low rectal tumor, for example, can benefit from RAS performed by a skilled and experienced surgeon.
“When you have a big, bulky tumor down in the pelvis, in a confined area with important surrounding structures like muscles, and nerves that affect urinary and bowel function — which is important for continence and sexual function — it’s difficult to see everything clearly with open surgery or laparoscopy. The robotic platform makes it easier to see the operating field, avoiding injury to those important structures and enables me to perform the operation much more efficiently.”
Patients who undergo robot-assisted surgery tend to have smaller incisions, less pain and a faster recovery time compared with those who undergo traditional open surgery. In addition, due to this faster recovery, RAS patients also might be able to receive important chemotherapy or other systemic therapies faster than other approaches, he says.
"Robotic surgery has become a major part of my practice. There are some things I can do robotically better than I can do laparoscopically or with open surgery. The data suggest that not only is robot-assisted surgery beneficial for a patient’s short-term recovery, but there does not seem to be any risk to long-term outcomes related to the cancer.”
But Dr. Nurkin is quick to say he didn’t achieve this milestone by himself. He credits his skilled and long-standing team for helping him hit 500 robot-assisted surgeries, including Amy Chappell, MF, a physician assistant in surgical oncology, and operating room nurse Ashley Kerr, BSN, AAS, RN, CNOR. “Ashley helps me set up the OR and coordinates everything in the operating room, which makes it that much easier. Amy has been with me for hundreds of these surgeries. She knows the steps of the operations and informs the team what’s needed for each procedure.”
Dr. Nurkin is pleased and proud to reach the 500-surgery threshold at Roswell Park.
“We’ve come a long way,” he says. “It’s been a long process, but now we’re able to do multiple cases in a single day. That’s thanks to our phenomenal team, with dedicated surgical technicians and nurses.”