Who Needs Anatomy?

Thursday, 07 May 2015

Medico-Chirurgical Hall

Professor Simon Parson, Professor of Anatomy, University of Aberdeen


Minute of Society Meeting held on Thursday 7th May 2015 in the Society's Hall, Foresterhill

The President, Professor Mike Greaves, presided.

The President introduced the evening's speaker Professor Simon Parsons, the Professor of Anatomy at the University of Aberdeen.  The title of his talk was Who Needs Anatomy?

Prof Parsons started by listing the various groups of students and their courses who use his department including MB ChB students in years one to three, dental students, physician associates, medical humanities students, various BSc courses, sports science and archeology students.  His department provides about 600 hours of teaching for about 800 students annually.

In early medical courses there was little other than anatomy to be taught but the course is now so crowded that anatomy teaching has been squeezed so he has had to think carefully about what to teach in the time available.

His department receives about 30 donated cadavers per year which is only just enough but they also import frozen body parts from America.  Traditional dissection courses involved working though a cadaver but around one third of medical students get little out of that approach so it is an unproductive use of time and does not fit in with the systematic design of modern medical courses.  Prof Parsons asked whether virtual anatomy was the answer but answered that it was not an effective way of teaching unless staff were helping all the time.

He spoke specifically about the Aberdeen medical course in which first year students are introduced to whole cadavers  and the teaching is then system based over three years.  The teaching method is a 'supported self directed' approach which means that students find it hard to begin with but find it a better way of learning and gaining understanding.  The students have work books to guide them and tell them what to look at.  They should be thinking and working things out for themselves since just learning from a textbook does not help understanding. 

Other teaching techniques are used including using face paints for surface anatomy and using plasticine to make models.  Histology, radiology and pathology are incorporated when required and all the workbooks contain some clinical information.

Prof  Parsons then spoke about the use of 3 dimensional anatomy (3D) which he said can give excellent images on a 3D television. AS with all techniques, some students do better with 3D than others so different ways of teaching are used and students can spend time with whichever format they find best.  His department has recently started  a 'peer assisted' learning scheme which involves senior students helping to teach junior ones.

His department also provides help for trainee and practicing surgeons and anesthetists (for regional blocks) as well as using fresh frozen samples for trainee plastic surgeons.  Research is being conducted on spinal innervation to facilitate denervation techniques and the anatomy museum will be open to the public for the Doors Open day this year.

There were several questions including about the teaching of histology and embryology.


The President proposed the vote of thanks for what had been an illuminating talk describing anatomy teaching much advanced from that undertaken by members.

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