Mastering Cadaveric Dissection and Engaging Students: How to Become “An Amazing Asset” to Students in the Dissection Laboratory

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Austin J Anat. 2017; 4(1): 1063.

Mastering Cadaveric Dissection and Engaging Students: How to Become “An Amazing Asset” to Students in the Dissection Laboratory

Zhang G*

Department of Pathology, Anatomy & Cell Biology, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University USA

*Corresponding author: Zhang G, Department of Pathology, Anatomy & Cell Biology, Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, USA

Received: November 29, 2016; Accepted: January 23, 2017; Published: January 30, 2017


As an anatomist, I am convinced that anatomy education is an essential component of the undergraduate medical curriculum. Regardless of how the curriculum changes, dissection-based experience remains the most effective way for students to learn anatomy. At Sidney Kimmel Medical College, we offer cadaveric dissection to both medical student class (about 270 students) and Physician Assistant (PA) class (about 150 students from both PA programs at Thomas Jefferson University and Arcadia University). Teaching gross anatomy in limited time to a large class can be challenging. Here, I would like to share my personal practice in the dissection laboratory as an anatomy educator with my fellow anatomists, to illustrate how we can more effectively guide students through their dissection experience. Hopefully, this article will initiate further discussion on this important topic.

Your Confidence is Built on a Solid Foundation of Knowledge in Anatomy and Cadaveric Dissection

Comprehensive understanding of anatomical relationships and knowledge of important clinical applications provides a basis for confidence when instructors are in front of students. Knowledge will also make you a more effective and efficient dissector in the laboratory. To achieve this goal, we must be committed to life-long learning and self-improvement (never stop learning). To strengthen my knowledge and prepare for teaching, I find it helpful to consult multiple textbooks and atlases, seek advice from my friends and colleagues, and accumulate proofs of anatomic relationships from the human gifts during dissection.

Bring a Positive Attitude to the Laboratory and Demonstrate Professionalism

Dissection can be a stressful experience for many students, particularly at the beginning of a course. Creating a cheerful and friendly atmosphere in the lab can help ease tension and make the dissection experience “FUN”. Every time I enter the lab, I quickly greet each and every group, give them brief instructions regarding the particular session, and tell them “we will have fun”. Faculty empathy towards students and respect for their needs as learners can also help our students feel more comfortable in the dissection lab. Teaching many dissection groups at the same time is also a stressful experience for faculty instructors. During dissection sessions, I constantly remind myself to be patient. When students ask me questions, I make sure that I listen carefully. Once I provide an answer, I always ask students whether their questions have been fully answered and their understanding has been made clear. Students are keenly sensitive to whether you are willing to help them by making yourself open and accessible. Here are some of the words that students have used to describe my efforts in the dissection room in the past several years:

Approachable, accessible, patient, willing to help, empathetic, influential, inspiring, energetic, professional, motivational, reliable, easy to talk to, brings a great attitude to lab; Effective, efficient, astoundingly good at dissection, an incredible asset to have in the dissection room, the epitome of efficiency

Manage Time at Each Dissecting Table and Rotate Efficiently in the Laboratory so that all Tables Receive Adequate Help

Because of increasing class size, faculty instructors are often called upon to teach multiple groups at the same time. At Sidney Kimmel Medical College, each faulty member has responsibility for eight or nine dissecting tables. To ensure that all groups receive adequate help, instructors must be efficient and effective, so as to navigate quickly among the tables. During a typical 3-hour dissection session with nine dissecting groups, I usually make an effort to visit each table 2-3 times. This means that I spend 7-9 minutes on average each time that I stop at a dissecting table. At each table, I help students solve dissection problems, answer questions, and get the students moving in a new direction, before I switch to another table. Students certainly appreciate this planning and extra effort. Here are of few comments that I received from last year’s class reflecting this practice:

All in all, deep affection for anatomy education provides the foundation for one to become an effective and influential anatomy instructor. I have the privilege to teach anatomical sciences in a medical school and I enjoy my job tremendously. I trust that my fellow anatomists feel the same, and I believe that everyone has their own tips regarding anatomy education. I anticipate that you will want to share your experiences, so that together we can grow stronger as educators and help make anatomy education more rewarding for us, and for our students.


The author gratefully acknowledges Dr. Bruce A. Fenderson, Department of Pathology, Anatomy & Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, for his help with English editing for this article.

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Citation: Zhang G. Mastering Cadaveric Dissection and Engaging Students: How to Become “An Amazing Asset” to Students in the Dissection Laboratory. Austin J Anat. 2017; 4(1): 1063. ISSN:2381-8921

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