Spring 2012
Anatomy program evolves

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Carl Sievert talks to students

Carl Sievert discusses anatomy with Natsuko Takakuwa and Cameron Wipfli as Katie Lyons and Steeven John review charts. Photo by Jeff Ross

No longer your parents' medical school anatomy course.

By Anne McMillin, APR

Several events came together over the past year to allow the anatomy program to take the next step in its evolution at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

The opening of the William N. Pennington Health Sciences Building and the curricular transformation for medical education instruction have combined to catapult the anatomy program to the next level.

Following their first year of medical school under the new curriculum, which focuses on an integrated understanding of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, histology and the practice of medicine, medical students will be able to return to the anatomy lab in their second, third and fourth years for additional refresher courses, electives and the opportunity to teach, thanks to more physical space and better equipment in the new facility.

"The new space allows students the opportunity to come back and look at anatomy for a refresher in their second year and return as a fourth-year student to help teach and/or do special dissections to better prepare them for their residencies," said Carl Sievert, an anatomy professor in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology.

"We can also bring them back again in their third year prior to their obstetrics and gynecology or surgery clerkships to expose them to the most common anatomical features they will be seeing in those clerkships," he added.

Sievert added that prior to the new facility opening last summer, once students left the anatomy lab following their first year, they didn't have the opportunity to return to review materials or gain teaching experience.

The gradual move to a larger class size over the next several years necessitated the creation of additional space in the Pennington Health Sciences Building for the anatomy lab. The additional space, needed for donated cadavers and for training local physicians on evolving surgical procedures, has allowed the medical school to hire Patricia Elder, a mortician with skill in anatomical dissection embalming techniques for both long-term cadaver preservation and surgical and research applications.

Josh Bardin, M.D., a retired vascular surgeon, who started volunteering with the anatomy program six years ago and is now a faculty member, said the new building allows for efficient and effective teaching with better lighting and computers at each of the 25 dissecting tables.

"We are working on tiny structures with lots of detail within the body so the new operating room quality lighting is spectacular," Bardin said.

"Ceiling mounted cameras transmit our dissection images and lectures to computers at each table and allow for step-by-step instruction."

The curricular transformation replaces the previous discipline-based instructional model with integrated blocks that offer a more consistent approach to teaching science concepts within a clinical context, limited lecture hours and an emphasis on lifelong learning strategies. Under this new model of curricular reform, anatomy professors will step back from the lecture podium in favor of more self-directed learning.

"We will spend less time with students on some subjects but they will still learn the required material because it will be picked up elsewhere," Sievert said.

"For example, professors were teaching radiology in the classroom; but in the new curriculum some of it will be self-directed and students will learn that portion on their own."

Curricular transformation realigns instruction methodology to a body systems-based model. This model should make learning easier for students because of better organization of instructional materials and more emphasis on integration between disciplines, according to Sievert.

"Students will see the entire body system from all perspectives - histology, anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology and the like," he said.

"Learning the material will be less redundant now because curricular reform allows for better collaboration."

Bardin said by following the curricular reform trend sweeping medical schools across the nation, the School of Medicine will be better at showing the connection between basic sciences and clinical scenarios.

Anatomy is one of the most important courses in the health sciences, serving as a foundation for other disciplines such as physiology, pathology, neurology and surgery.

The donation of one's body after death is a thoughtful and unique contribution to the education of future doctors, nurses, and emergency medical personnel. Dignity and respect for donated bodies is maintained at all times.

Joyce King, administrator for the anatomical donation program, said, "The generosity of body donors adds immeasurably to our quality of life."

"Those who will their bodies to medical science are giving their mortal substance to contribute to the health and well-being of future generations. They extend their own usefulness far beyond the grave."

For questions about the anatomical donation program, contact King at (775) 784-4569.