Anatomy education has suffered greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing medical institutions to switch from in-person to remote learning. This entails sacrifice of the 3D learning component of the laboratory and creates a major experience gap in the curriculum. At the School of Health Professions of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, anatomy courses were delivered remotely over the past two summers for the physical therapy, physician assistant, and occupational therapy programs. Student evaluations reveal the perception of their respective cohorts having “lost out” on the value of in-person experience in the anatomy lab compared to upper classmen who took this course before the pandemic lockdown. To bridge this gap, medical educators came together as a community to offer an in-person, hands-on anatomy experience to 94 health professional students. Weill Cornell Medicine hosted the event and provided 20 donor dissection bodies with a total of 16 participating faculty that included anatomy directors from SUNY Albany, University at Buffalo, Icahn and NYU Schools of Medicine, in addition to Emergency department and Rehabilitative Medicine Attendings and former students who are now in private practice. A review of the musculoskeletal system was offered in three distinct categories that involved demonstration of movements, the neurovascular elements involved, and clinicopathologies. The follow up survey reveals positive student responses in all three categories. They also credited the event with providing an appreciation of the three-dimensionality of the region, citing that remote learning did not offer a full understanding of contiguous anatomical structures in 3D space. What was not measured in the survey were unexpected losses of corollary benefits to other courses that learning human dissection conferred. Program directors reported that some of these students underperformed in their respective programs which was unexpected based on their admissions profile compared to students who had the in-person anatomy lab experience. What is missing when students do not have a 3-D appreciation for the musculoskeletal system is their understanding of elements such as direction of muscle fibers (parallel vs pennate), line of pull, and eccentric versus concentric contractions. Human gross anatomy in the laboratory, aside from providing 3D learning, lays the foundation for the problem-solving skills and professionalism that will be expected of them throughout their health professional careers. Thus, gross anatomy education is not solely a course to “memorize” the names of soft-tissue structures in 3D space but instead also serves to develop and fortify professional behaviors that will prepare students beyond the laboratory and into the workplace.
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