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North Texas Surgical Clinician Sculpts Realistic Bodies For Medical Training

The Surgery Studio specializes in the design and manufacture of customizable medical training simulators

“When I’m not at work, with my family or at other commitments, I’m here working on all of this,” says April Snipes, gesturing to the — literal — body of work on display at her studio. “I have a passion for it. I love it — it’s my art.”

Snipes and her art are wildly impressive, yet you might not guess these masterpieces come from her home studio right here in North Texas. Nestled on the side of her house in McKinney sits a tidy, dimly lit room filled with fake blood, silicone molds, surgical equipment and other materials ready to be transformed into training simulators. 

Leaning on her expertise as a surgical clinician, Snipes sculpts highly realistic models that mimic the complexities of real tissue to provide medical professionals with an unparalleled training experience. 


Snipes was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit by her mother, a sculptor and graphic designer for General Motors, and her father, a small business owner. Her grandfather, Frank Sewell, was the inventor and founder of Ringmaster Rubbing Oil, an anti-inflammatory treatment applied topically to relieve pain or discomfort. Like her family, Snipes was destined to live an entrepreneurial, artistic life. Her business, The Surgery Studio, is proof of that. 

The Surgery Studio specializes in the design and manufacture of customizable medical training simulators. It moves theory into practice with cutting-edge technology that enhances the skills of medical professionals in the hope of improving patient outcomes. And each training simulator is created by hand, like a piece of fine art, right here in North Texas at her McKinney studio.

As a child, Snipes dreamt of becoming an artist, but her parents encouraged her to pursue other paths. Pivoting to health care, Snipes attended nursing school with plans of becoming a doctor. After completing her degree and becoming a labor and delivery nurse, Snipes, by then a busy mom of three, decided instead to embark on a journey to become a surgical first assistant.

Surgical first assistants (commonly known as first assists) are advanced allied health practitioners whose role is vital in the operating room. Under the direction and supervision of the surgeon, and in accordance with hospital policy and appropriate laws and regulations, first assists are tasked with anticipating the surgeon’s needs, selecting surgical equipment, holding incisions open, closing incisions, controlling bleeding, placing and securing wound drains, and many other intraoperative technical functions necessary to achieve optimal surgical results for patients.

Snipes began practicing as a first assist in 2014, but because it wasn’t common practice for Texas hospitals to hire for this position at the time, it was an uphill battle getting there and staying there. “I ran into so many closed doors, but I held out hope that one would open for me,” says Snipes. “In December of 2014, I finally found a physicians group who was open to using my services. A few weeks later, the office manager notified me that they would no longer be needing my services because of some confusion with their malpractice policy.” Snipes didn’t know the legal ramifications of her role any more than they did — and so, she couldn’t defend her position.

A large surgical first assistant group in DFW approached Snipes to join them. They had solid hospital and physician contracts in place, and because of this, they convinced Snipes it was her only way to succeed in the industry. Feeling unsure of her next steps, Snipes reluctantly joined them. The first case she was assigned to was in orthopedics, but Snipes had zero orthopedic training or experience. 

“It was terrifying. I didn’t know the names of the instruments, how to use them or the steps of the procedure,” says Snipes. “I felt so bad for the surgeon and the patient. I felt useless.” 

After that surgery, Snipes contacted the surgery scheduler and reminded them of her experience and specialties, but due to systemic health care obstacles, the scheduler continued to assign her procedures she’d never done. 

“I’d go to YouTube University and watch as many cases as I could, pulling out my books and trying to learn as much as possible so I could at least anticipate what the steps of the procedure might be,” says Snipes. 

But these weren’t minor procedures. “I remember one case in particular that I was assigned to at the last minute,” she continues. “It was a spinal surgery with a doctor I had never met, and I pushed back on this vehemently (because I had never worked in spine). Their response to me was to fake it till you make it, and that was the last straw. I quit the company and went out on my own again.”

A hard truth that Snipes uncovered as a nurse had resurfaced again — patient safety often takes a back seat to the bottom line. “Unfortunately, health care revenue models place higher priorities on what makes them the most money, regardless of the impact it has on everyone else involved,” she says. While many medical professionals become disillusioned and weighed down by red tape and pessimism, Snipes harnessed her innate ambition to meet these hurdles head-on. The result was The Surgery Studio.

When Snipes was in the early days of developing The Surgery Studio, she took classes from Matthew Mungle, an Emmy- and Academy Award-winning special effects and prosthetic makeup artist. He taught her how to manipulate silicone and sculpt molds. And, with lots of practice, her training simulators began to look, feel and act just like the human body.

The Surgery Studio aims to create training simulators that capture the beauty and artistry of the human body and mimic the complexities of real tissue. And it’s this unique intersection of art and science that provides medical professionals with visual and tactile feedback to hone their skills, reduce their learning curve and increase their confidence in order to excel in their field.

And, in a world that’s increasingly dependent on online learning and virtual modalities, Snipes isn’t concerned that will eliminate the need for her work.

“If you’re learning to do something critical, like sew an artery back together, no virtual setting will give you that kind of tactile feedback,” says Snipes.

And she’s right: The Surgery Studio’s training simulators are like nothing else. Beyond the increased efficiency of education, they decrease costs, which generates more revenue. They create a specific, palpable learning opportunity that isn’t possible to achieve elsewhere, especially virtually. 

Because of this tangible experience, The Surgery Studio’s training simulators enable hands-on learning for more than medical students and health care professionals. There’s also an in-person opportunity for these training simulators to help educate patients and their families and caregivers in both preoperative and postoperative settings. 

Snipes’ first priority is and always has been to protect her patients. “It’s so important for me to bring the patient and medical community together,” she says. “Because the more we create transparency in health care, the better off people are to advocate for themselves.” Her goal, she continues, is to have an on-site training center at every hospital so employees can practice whenever they want and patients can learn more about their conditions and procedures to calm their fears.