Learning Anatomy through dissection: Perceptions of a diverse medical student cohort.

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Van Wyk, J. & Rennie, C.O.


The debate on how best to teach anatomy and the central role of cadaveric dissections in medical training remains topical even today. Despite the use of a variety of teaching methodologies e.g. prosected specimens, plastinated specimens, cadaveric dissection and computer-assisted learning, the amount of time dedicated to a full body human dissection programme, its clinical relevance and whether it promotes deeper learning has become a bone of contention in problem- based learning context. The implementation of student centred, PBL curricula means that students’ learning is autonomous, and studies suggest the link between students’ approaches to learning with their perceptions of their learning environment. Therefore, this study explored the perceptions of an educationally diverse medical student cohort in a 5 year problem-based learning programme who learned anatomy through the dissection method, elaborating on the value of this subject to their medical studies. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected and thematically analysed. One hundred students of the MBChB2 cohort (44%) completed the questionnaire. The majority of the respondents (70%) reported a positive experience during anatomical dissection in terms of visual and clinical application whilst gaining anatomy understanding and skill. Students with prior educational qualifications (mature) and first time school leavers voiced similar complaints. Student responses differed qualitatively on how they benefitted from the dissection. This study confirms that dissection remains an effective method for basic anatomy teaching even in PBL contexts. It concludes with strategies to enhance the learning experiences of educationally diverse students.

KEY WORDS: Teaching and learning in anatomy; Dissection; Problem based learning; Undergraduate medical program; Student perceptions.

How to cite this article

VAN WYK, J. & RENNIE C. O. Learning Anatomy through dissection: Perceptions of a diverse medical student cohort. Int. J. Morphol., 33(1):89-95, 2015.