Anatomy by Whole Body Dissection as an Elective: Student Outcomes

J Surg Educ. 2020 Sep 18;S1931-7204(20)30275-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.07.041. Online ahead of print.


Background: Anatomy education has long been considered fundamental to the medical profession. Recently, Australasian medical schools have favored prosected human material, models and medical imaging in their anatomy curriculum with only 3 medical schools offering whole-body dissection. The aim of this study was to explore the knowledge acquisition and perceptions of an elective anatomy by whole body dissection (AWBD) course for senior medical students.

Methods: In the 2017 AWBD course, 53 self-selected senior medical students carried out dissections over an 8-week period. Students were assessed via true/false questions and practical tests involving the identification of structures on anatomical images at precourse, mid-course and end-course. In addition, at completion of the course, students completed a questionnaire using a 5-point Likert scale and 2 open-ended questions. Quantitative data analysis was conducted on test scores and questionnaire data using a paired-sample t-test and descriptive statistics. Qualitative data were coded and categorised into themes.

Results: There was a significant improvement (p < 0.0001) in student test scores from pre-course (mean 34.1 ± 12.9%) to mid-course (mean 74.8 ± 9.4%) and end-course (mean 75.4 ± 9.8%). Analysis of the questionnaire data showed strongly favorable perceptions of the course, highlighting dissection, complemented by Structure, Clinical, Objective-Referenced, Problem-Based, Integrated and Organized (SCORPIO) teaching, frequent testing and senior surgeon supervision as beneficial teaching methods.

Conclusions: Dissecting in small groups has been shown to be an effective part of anatomy learning. Our study suggests complementary teaching methods as possible augmenters to a well-structed, small group AWBD course. We have presented a framework suitable for an intensive AWBD course within medical curricula, that was valued by participants, and improved students' knowledge of anatomy.

Keywords: anatomy education; anatomy teaching; dissection in anatomy; medical education; medical school curriculum; whole body dissection.