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Teaching Anatomy in a More Efficient Way


New Haven, Conn. — Yale School of Medicine faculty are pilot testing an anatomy course for medical students that teaches the students more in less time by focusing on how they think, reason and learn, according to a report published this month in Medical Teacher.

Lawrence Rizzolo, associate professor of anatomy and lead author of the study, said physicians must be trained in an increasing array of technical disciplines because of the explosive growth of medical knowledge. This places pressure on traditional courses, like anatomy, to re-evaluate what students need to learn and to identify the most efficient ways to teach.

“Designing courses that produce students with less understanding of human anatomy is not a viable option,” Rizzolo said. “Faced with the challenge of teaching more anatomy with less time, we set out to understand how students employ instructional media to learn anatomy inside and outside of the classroom.”

He and his collaborators developed a series of pilot programs to explore how students learn anatomy and how they combine instructional technology with more traditional classroom and laboratory-based learning.

Knowing that students prefer interactive exercises that require problem solving and provide immediate feedback, the authors looked at web-based computer exercises that have become a popular means to supplement and enhance traditional dissection. They also considered studies indicating that if material is learned in the context in which it will be used, the result will be enhanced retention and understanding.

“We believe we have designed a course that, rather than presenting details for memorization, should transform how a student thinks about anatomy and assimilates new knowledge,” Rizzolo said. “We used common surgical and medical cases as the core of the revised anatomy course.”

“Because small group discussion and problem-based exploration are commonly perceived as inefficient, it may seem contradictory to employ these methods to shorten a course,” he said. “However, we find that this clinical approach focuses students’ attention on the critical skills of spatial reasoning and the application of structure-function relationships, while freeing students from endless hours of memorization that produces little true learning.”

Co-authors include William Stewart, Michael O’Brien, M.D., Andrew Haims, M.D., William Rando, James Abrahams, M.D., Shane Dunne, Silas Wang and Marcus Aden.

Medical Teacher 28 (2): 142-151 (April 2006)


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