The Butcher!

We all know that anatomy can be dull. One only has to look at browse the textbooks to realize that this vast topic will take some time to learn, let alone consolidate. There are currently two main methods of teaching anatomy. The first is the use of dissection, which entails the student dissembling a medically donated body by making incisions in the regions of interest. Usually a group of students share this body between them. The other method is prosections, which involves observing and identifying relevant body parts that have already been dissected. So which method outdoes the other and is more preferable for learning?

The argument for dissection has always been the fact that one learns best from experience. Couple this experiential learning with the ability to see the dynamic and multidimensional construction of the human body, and one could say you have an ideal tool for learning. Historically the best medical advances have happened from this crude but investigative method. The other advantage of dissection is that it may help build students emotional strength for dealing with situations involving death. This can often be a difficult and distressing situation, which students will have to face in the future.

Conversely, the argument for prosections is evident. The cadaver is masterfully dissected, with every detail preserved to allow for accurate anatomic visualization. The prosections provide a quick tool for visualization but also enable the student to appreciate the 3D structure. Also, one need not be in close proximity to a dead body and it is considerably cheaper compared to dissection. As the parts have been correctly cut already by a professional dissector, the chances of essential vessels or nerves being missed is unlikely. I find that this is a major disadvantage of dissection and that although the experience is good, often with an imperfect technique, one can damage the body and this is disadvantageous not only for you, but also for your colleagues. I think that this highlights the main reason why prosections would be better for someone with minimal manual dexterity skills. Nevertheless, this could be disadvantageous to those kinaesthetic learners.

So, I think the main dilemma here is to adequately give the opportunities to students who want to and are skilled at doing dissection. I think everyone benefits from prosections, but the opportunity of a hands on experience should be offered to students. So, the option as to whether they would like to do dissection as an additional study component is a good incentive, to help those kinaesthetic learners. I think the best manner to learn anatomy, is to work with what’s best for you.

Textbooks are crucial aid regardless of how you learn anatomy. One can always use Grays anatomy or Clinical Oriented Anatomy, to understand the underlying theory. I found that Netters flash cards were the best adjunct to studying anatomy, particularly in first and second year, and the clinical application of such anatomy is relevant all the way through medical school, thus if you want to invest in anything, invest in those flash cards.

In addition to the anatomy books and teaching one can always visit exhibitions around London, such as the current “Doctors, Dissection and Ressurection Men running at the Museum of London.” The great diversity of all exhibitions in London allows one to seek out and find interesting prosections and also delve into history a little. I suppose this is the expensive option, but at least one can stimulate their minds on an evening out with a few friends.

In conclusion, I believe that prosections act as first line teaching, with a possible additional component of study to do dissection would be the best protocol, both for saving money in this current economic climate, but also to get the people with the need for kinaesthetic learning into dissection. In addition, books and flash cards are a necessity to aid all medical students. This arises another question of should there be a questionnaire to find out your learning style before you get into medical school, so you can be directed into the right method of teaching for the way you learn?

By Harvinder Singh Bhamra

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