Success Stories

Students build training tool for future surgeons

William Rytlewski is modifying and testing the Electronic Laparoscopic Trainer.

What started out as a class project evolved into an initiative to help medical residents become successful surgeons.

William Rytlewski, biomedical engineering graduate student in the School of Engineering, is working to modify a device built for the Grand Rapids Medical Education Partnership that allows medical students to improve their laparoscopy skills.

The Electronic Laparoscopic Trainer was originally built by Paul Shields, who graduated in May of 2012 with a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. It includes a gaming element that tracks data in real time to help improve reaction times, memory and hand-eye coordination.

The device is meant to compliment existing training devices, said Shields, who works for MedBio, a Grand Rapids-based medical equipment manufacturer. “It was a challenge and good learning experience to take GRMEP’s goals and turn it them into an actual object,” he said. “Since their objective was to improve reaction times and coordination, I decided to create a game out of it and incorporate it into the training tool.”

Rytlewski, from Midland, picked up where Shields left off during the summer of 2012, and is currently adding more functionality to the device, which was built from scratch, and testing it with current residents to find ways to improve it. “There are specific skills required for laparoscopic surgeons, like grabbing and squeezing, and right now the device doesn’t include those types of elements, so the study will help to determine what other things residents are looking for when training,” he said.

Rytlewski, who received his undergraduate degree from Grand Valley in 2011, said he hopes the device will eventually help residents become better and faster surgeons. “Our hope is that the gaming element we incorporated will make residents want to practice until they’re satisfied with their score,” he said.

Shields said his professors in the Biomedical Engineering program really helped prepare him by providing real-world, practical opportunities. “They recognized that biomedical engineering is a growing field and they shaped the curriculum to prepare me for the professional world,” he said.  

About the biomedical engineering master’s program
Grand Valley State University is the first university in West Michigan to offer a graduate-level degree program in biomedical engineering and it is the only program in Michigan to focus on medical device design and development. The program, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and supported by the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium and local companies, will help students match development opportunities with research trends and bring innovative products to market. It is available for students interested in enrolling part-time or full-time, and is enriched by a state-of-the-art biomedical engineering laboratory located on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The engineering facilities provide more than 80,000 square feet of space for students to experience hands-on learning and engage in industry-sponsored projects.

Learn more about the program at