(A glimpse into my life as a Vanderbilt medical student)

Monday, September 27, 2004

Virtual Reality and Basic Anatomy

The what goes to the what what? Words so often in uttered in desperation as my friends and I stared down at our cadaver in complete ignorance. Picking through the fat and fascia, it was sometimes hard to understand the rational for our (seemingly) trivial anatomic explorations. Was it really so important that I know where the anterior superior pancreaticoduodenal artery became the inferior pancreaticoduodenal artery? While honesty dictates that I answer a resounding retrospective “No,” this negativity is hardly the general attitude I hold toward my first year anatomy experience.

I view anatomy lab as one of the formative experiences of my first year in medicine. As a second year, I study the pathology of a particular organ system and I remember that organ in my cadaver. How it felt. Where it was. What it looked like. If these facts had been written on a sheet of paper or flashed on a screen, I could say that I had seen the material before, but therein lies the caveat. Seeing with the eyes is almost a passive process that can easily be set to auto; anatomy lab is unique in that it involves a multisensory approach to comprehension. Touch is key to medicine and starts with what our professors referred to as a student’s first patient: his cadaver. I remember cardiac anatomy because I have held a heart in my hand and dissected out its secrets. I know the functions of the extra-ocular muscles because I have explored their movements on an actual specimen. Would I be willing to give up these experiences for a couple of extra hours of study time? No. Would I have learned the same amount of information from a 3-D computer program? No.

I guess this discussion was spurred on by a recent article in the NEJM as well as tonight’s marathon path study session. I just realized how important that facet of my education was to me and can’t imagine a complete medical education without it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the geek who would be first in line to try holographic dissection, but you gotta admit, there is nothing quite like a good old-fashioned fat pickin.


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