Background: The introduction of a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum at the School of Medicine of the University of Melbourne has necessitated a reduction in the number of lectures and limited the use of dissection in teaching anatomy. In the new curriculum, students learn the anatomy of different body systems using PBL tutorials, practical classes, pre-dissected specimens, computer-aided learning multimedia and a few dissection classes. The aims of this study are: (1) to assess the views of first- and second-year medical students on the importance of dissection in learning about the anatomy, (2) to assess if students' views have been affected by demographic variables such as gender, academic background and being a local or an international student, and (3) to assess which educational tools helped them most in learning the anatomy and whether dissection sessions have helped them in better understanding anatomy.
Methods: First- and second-year students enrolled in the medical course participated in this study. Students were asked to fill out a 5-point Likert scale questionnaire. Data was analysed using Mann-Whitney's U test, Wilcoxon's signed-ranks or the calculation of the Chi-square value.
Results: The response rates were 89% for both first- and second-year students. Compared to second-year students, first-year students perceived dissection to be important for deep understanding of anatomy (P < 0.001), making learning interesting (P < 0.001) and introducing them to emergency procedures (P < 0.001). Further, they preferred dissection over any other approach (P < 0.001). First-year students ranked dissection (44%), textbooks (23%), computer-aided learning (CAL), multimedia (10%), self-directed learning (6%) and lectures (5%) as the most valuable resources for learning anatomy, whereas second-year students found textbooks (38%), dissection (18%), pre-dissected specimens (11%), self-directed learning (9%), lectures (7%) and CAL programs (7%) as most useful. Neither of the groups showed a significant preference for pre-dissected specimens, CAL multimedia or lectures over dissection.
Conclusions: Both first- and second-year students, regardless of their gender, academic background, or citizenship felt that the time devoted to dissection classes were not adequate. Students agreed that dissection deepened their understanding of anatomical structures, provided them with a three-dimensional perspective of structures and helped them recall what they learnt. Although their perception about the importance of dissection changed as they progressed in the course, good anatomy textbooks were perceived as an excellent resource for learning anatomy. Interestingly, innovations used in teaching anatomy, such as interactive multimedia resources, have not replaced students' perceptions about the importance of dissection.