OpNotes and Clinical Exercises: Activities to Enhance the Clinical Context of the Preclerkship Anatomy Dissection Laboratory

Acad Med. 2023 Aug 1;98(8):912-916. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000005216. Epub 2023 Mar 22.


Problem: Despite numerous pedagogical approaches and technologies now available for medical gross anatomy, students can find it difficult to translate what occurs in a dissection laboratory into the context of clinical practice.

Approach: Using complementary and collaborative approaches at 2 different medical schools, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and University of Maryland (UM), we designed and implemented a series of clinical activities in the preclerkship medical gross anatomy laboratory that directly link dissected structures to clinical procedures. These activities specifically direct students to perform simulated clinically related procedures on anatomic donors during laboratory dissection sessions. The activities are called OpNotes at VCU and Clinical Exercises at UM. Each activity in the VCU OpNotes requires about 15 minutes of group activity at the end of a scheduled laboratory and involves faculty to grade the student responses submitted via a web-based-assessment form. Each exercise in UM Clinical Exercises also requires about 15 minutes of group activity during the schedule laboratory but does not involve faculty to complete grading.

Outcomes: Cumulatively, the activities in OpNotes and Clinical Exercises both brought clinical context directly to anatomical dissections. These activities began in 2012 at UM and 2020 at VCU, allowing a multiyear and multi-institute development and testing of this innovative approach. Student participation was high, and perception of its effectiveness was almost uniformly positive.

Next steps: Future iterations of the program will work to assess the efficacy of the program as well as to streamline the scoring and delivery of the formative components. Collectively, we propose that the concept of executing clinic-like procedures on donors in anatomy courses is an effective means of enhancing learning in the anatomy laboratory while concurrently underscoring the relevance of basic anatomy to future clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy* / education
  • Cadaver
  • Curriculum
  • Dissection / education
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / methods
  • Educational Measurement
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Students, Medical*