Medical students need more hands-on work in human anatomy

13 December 2010

The refurnished main dissecting room in 2009.
The refurnished main dissecting room in 2009.

Dissection anatomy should be an integral component of medical education, according to a study by University of Sydney researchers published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

George Ramsey-Stewart, Professor of Surgical Anatomy at Sydney Medical School, and co-authors evaluated the 2010 Anatomy by whole body dissection elective course offered to senior medical students at the University of Sydney.

Twenty-nine students participated in the whole-body dissection course. Students were divided into eight groups and carried out whole-body dissections on eight cadavers over 34 days. Surgical trainees acted as demonstrators, and surgeons and anatomists supervised. The students were assessed by practical tests involving the identification of 20 tagged structures in four "wet" specimens (ie embalmed dissections) before, during, at the end of, and one month after the course.

The median pre-course assessment score was 8/20. Students' knowledge of anatomy improved significantly through the course, with median scores of 18.5/20 for the mid-course assessment, 19/20 for the end-course assessment, and 19/20 for the post-course assessment.

All students rated the dissection course as "very good", and there was a unanimous recommendation that the course should be available for all students.

Professor Ramsey-Stewart observed that the teaching of anatomy by dissection has gradually decreased over the past several decades.

"This has led to a wide variation in the amount of anatomy taught at Australian and New Zealand medical schools," said Professor Ramsey-Stewart.

"There is an apparent need for the introduction of a standard basic national curriculum in gross human anatomy.

"The new curriculum should include dissection anatomy as a significant component and have a barrier assessment (ie an assessment that halts progress in the course until satisfactorily completed).

"This would ensure that medical graduates have a reasonable knowledge of gross human anatomy and are equipped to properly understand the amazingly complex biological structure with which most of them will be intimately concerned throughout the rest of their professional careers," Professor Ramsey-Stewart said.

The main dissecting room in 1960.
The main dissecting room in 1960.

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