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Sayra Cristancho


Current Appointments

Scientist, CERI
Associate Professor, Department of Surgery
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education


Educational Background

PhD, University of British Columbia, Mechanical Engineering

Research Program Highlights

Publications from Google Scholar

Personal Biography

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of will” – Vince Lombardi

In Colombia, previous to 1990, three consecutive presidential candidates were assassinated. The country and its education system were in upheaval. Sayra’s mother was one of sixteen children and a university education was simply not an option, but she always wanted to be a doctor. Years later, Colombia’s civil unrest caught up with Sayra just as she was about to complete her mother’s journey by being accepted into medical school in 1994,. The medical school was shut down intermittently over two years, so Sayra’s indefatigable journey toward medicine took a detour through biomedical engineering.

Like many great inventions (and, similarly, her choice of profession) Sayra’s greatest interest is the product of a twist of fate. She completed her doctoral work in biomedical engineering in Canada devising tools for the analysis of surgical expertise through spatial measurement of fine motor skills. When surgeons were forced to deviate from their regular patterns because of a complication, Sayra would find herself stuck in the operating room while her tools measured unusable data. But, as any good engineer would, she observed how the system worked: when surgeons bore down to concentrate on solving a complication, their patterns of communication and teaching changed, and their tendency to involve residents in the surgery decreased dramatically. Sayra took these observations with her as she followed her interests into educational theory and the complexity of surgical judgment.

Today, Sayra is building a multilayer systems theory of the operating theatre. The first piece of that puzzle is research into how expert surgeons assess complicated cases, reconcile the new information with existing plans, and implement clinical strategies. Sayra’s research is working toward improving surgical training so that teaching are based not only on knowing what technical skills to perfect but also on understanding what situational factors influence surgical judgment and how surgeons negotiate them in order to work through unexpected events in the complex systems of the operating room.