The Beginning (and End) of Anatomy

Now that we’re done with MCM (Molecular and Cellular Basis of Medicine), we’re moving into embryology, histology and anatomy which comprises the next block of our courses called The Human Body.

I checked out our schedule today and saw that we would be flying through what I feel is a rite of passage for medical school students. We spend three days on embryology and then we cram all of histology and anatomy into the next six weeks. In fact I counted and we only have 20 anatomy dissection labs. Although technically we can go into the labs anytime we want for as long as we want, six weeks is not a very long time to learn the entire human body. I can see this inevitably becoming more about cramming everything you need to know about the body rather than taking it slow to appreciate and consolidate all of that knowledge.

My good mentor Dr. Phil from The Coalition passed along this column written by Dr. Lloyd Sederer called “What’s Wrong with Medical Education Today?” Dr. Sederer is the Medical Director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, and in this article he writes about the travesty of medical schools shortening anatomy from one year to eight weeks:

“How in the world could anyone dissect a cadaver in that time and actually learn about the human body? How could a doctor in the making have the ritualistic and for me awesome (in the best sense of the word) experience of really knowing ‘the body,’ the physical essence of us all, the structures that house how we operate […] anatomy has largely disappeared from medical-school curriculum around the country […]”

Dr. Sederer goes on to write how anatomy has been replaced by “relationship training,” which includes learning how to take patient interviews and being a good, empathic listener. Ironically Dr. Sederer is a psychiatrist. But you know this is serious when a psychiatrist believes that replacing the doctor-cadaver encounter with the doctor-patient encounter as the central role in medical education “seems like a bad idea.” Maybe we are witnessing the demise of anatomy. Maybe in the future we’ll all be dissecting virtual cadavers instead.

I know that I haven’t gone through the class yet so I don’t feel qualified to comment on what it’s like to learn anatomy. Needless to say, I am excited to start anatomy and begin this ancient rite of passage.


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