Truckee, North Tahoe students get real world experience in the operating room

Hannah Jones

RENO — Before heading into the operating room, Abigail Rodriguez planned to one day become a registered nurse.

She was among a group of about 80 students from North Tahoe, Truckee and Incline high schools who got to step into the shoes of an orthopedic surgeon last week, helping to perform a knee replacement surgery on a cadaver at University of Nevada, Reno Medical Center.

And, after getting the up-close look at her career choice, she said the experience only solidified her goals.

“It was really exciting to see it in person,” said Abigail Rodriguez, a student at North Tahoe High School. “We all got to interact with the actual process and we were able to help. I normally just see it on TV.”

Geared up in protective equipment, students crowded around the operating table in the advanced surgical training lab, as Dr. Andrew Ringnes, orthopedic surgeon at Tahoe Forest Hospital, along with Physician Assistant Dan Coll, narrated various steps in the surgery and allowed students to assist them.

“If you guys feel like you’re going to pass out just sit down. Don’t be ashamed, it happens every year,” said Coll, as one student cut through the first layer of skin.


One by one, students rotated around the table to get a firsthand look at the cadaver and hold tools in place for Ringnes. While some were eager to squeeze up front for their chance to assist in the surgery, others stood complacent in the back.

“There are certainly students who really have an affinity for it,” Ringnes said. “You can see who really wants to get up there and get involved.

“I like watching the group of students who are interested but kind of scared,” he said. “I like to pick them and bring them up, because pushing them out of their comfort zone is good for them and that really helps contribute to their experience.”

Due to a limited number of spots, the students, who are currently enrolled in science courses at the high schools are selected by their teachers to attend the surgery. Whether or not the students will pursue careers in medicine, Ringnes said the surgery is a way for student gauge their interest.

Like the students, Ringnes said he had a mentor who gave him a similar opportunity when he was their age. His mother was a medical assistant to Dr. Stephen Bannar, who practiced in South Lake Tahoe for more than 20 years. Bannar allowed Ringnes to shadow him in the operating room, a defining moment for Ringnes’ career.

“That solidified it for me; I knew right away that it’s what I wanted to do,” said Ringnes.


This is the third year Ringnes has hosted students and he said he looks forward to doing it again next year.

“I’m willing to do it as long as they’ll have me, because I think it’s a great thing for kids in the community,” he said.

Following the knee surgery, the students were broken up into smaller groups for a tour of the anatomy lab and the cadavers currently being dissected by first-year medical students at the university.

“Once they do the surgery they come over here and they’re pretty comfortable,” said Lindsey Pisani, anatomy lab manager. “They were all very eager to learn. Even when I was talking about embalming,” she said.

“I hope it’s something that continues because it’s a really great experience for these kids,” she said.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or

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