Frank Willem Jansen

Shoulder to shoulder



Frank Willem Jansen did his specialisation in Obstetrics & Gynaecology in Leiden and obtained his PhD degree on Laparsoscopic surgery at the Leiden university. He currently has a dual appointment as Professor of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Leiden University Medical Center and at the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering at TU Delft.


TU Delft: Biomechanical Engineering
LUMC: Gynaecology


Clinical Scientific leader NIMIT (IMDI)

‘Minimally invasive? Smaller scars, faster recovery, shorter hospital stays, less pain for patients and healthcare costs savings.’

Technology entering the operating theater

‘My first contact with the TU Delft actually dates back to the moment when minimally invasive surgery was introduced here in Leiden. This new surgical technique was of course great news, but it did mean lots of technology suddenly entering the operating theater. Many of us thought that we would quickly be able to introduce this technique, but it soon became clear that training was essential. They were developing new techniques at the TU Delft to be able to carry out dry runs to master this type of surgery. The resulting synergy turned out to be very fruitful.’

Useful and patient-safe technology

‘As gynecologist/surgeon my specialty is the removal of the diseased parts of uteruses and ovaries – and of course I do this using minimally invasive surgery techniques. This means that the wound on the inside is the same, but the incision in the abdomen is much smaller. This results in smaller scars, faster recovery and therefore also shorter hospital stays which in turn leads to less pain for patients and saves money.’

‘But these interventions are at the same time more costly given the amount of technology required. It is very important to me to ensure, together with my colleagues, that only useful technology enters the operating theater, and that its use is also safe for patients and qualitatively correct. An example: we remove increasingly large organs, and they have to pass through a very small hole. So I ask a TU Delft researcher: can’t you design a device that makes the organ smaller so that it can fit through the hole. The designer immedi- ately came up with the idea of a small blender to pulverize the organ. But I explained that the pathologist also had to be able to examine the organ. This is an example of a clinical practice re- quirement that a designer would not immediately think of.’

Surgical specialists should be taught more about technology

‘All this technology entering the operating theater can be difficult for physicians to understand. It is not always easy for them to assess the values and possi- bilities of the technology. For standard technology such as the smartphones it does not really matter if we don’t know exactly what it can and cannot do. But in the medical world you are deal- ing with people’s lives. Surgical specialists should be taught more about technology during their training, especially informa- tion on other uses. We should actually have surgeons who say: I want to do it differently, and I know that it’s possible.’

‘This does not apply to the same extent for all surgical speciali- ties, but there are certain fields in which the developments in this area are very rapid. And it was this idea that led the way to establishing a course in which you acquire medical knowledge, but are also taught technological skills: the clinical technologist. Students of this bachelor de- gree, which will start in Rotter- dam in September, will take medical subjects and, parallel to this, also the relevant technical subjects.’

‘After the Bachelor degree, students can participate in technical or medical continuing education programs, or they can actually become clinical technologists. Clinical technol- ogists support and give advice to physicians and surgeons. But personally I think that those bachelor students who decide to participate in a medical continuing education program are at least as interesting. They will become physicians who can say: I’m looking for a device that can do so and so, and I know it’s possible.’

Amazing bridge between physicians and engineers

‘It really is an amazing bridge. It always feels great being able to go to the TU in Delft, but I also get the future engineers to come to our hospital. We have had a Masters subject called Surgery for Engineers for a few years. Eight students selected from Delft study ‘the instrument’: they observe how it is used in the op- erating theater; they help at the central sterilization department; they visit the technical services department, the purchasing department and the skills lab, where physicians practice using the instrument. They observe and analyze the entire process, and then I ask them to submit improvement proposals. For example, a proposal for a new design that they can work on in Delft. The way in which these students observe our way of working is extremely educational for us!’