“Anatomy is destiny.”
The intricacies of Head and Neck anatomy fascinate me. As my schedule has permitted, I have spent a few afternoons every fall helping the first-year medical students explore this remarkable anatomy.
A recent article
in the October 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons
describes the participation of volunteer surgeons in the first-year anatomy course at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, Md. Having surgeons in the dissection lab helps students see how the anatomy relates to diseases. The Medical College of Wisconsin anatomy course also includes clinicians whenever possible.
Working with medical students in the anatomy lab is a humbling experience for me for several reasons: First, the anatomy is wonderfully complex yet remarkably unwavering.
Each time I enter the anatomy laboratory, I marvel again how each nerve, muscle, vessel, and structure courses above, below, behind, or around the others in dissection after dissection. Anomalies do occur, but they are rare and noteworthy. Second, I learn each year how little I know.
Despite spending my career performing surgery in the region, there are structures tucked away in corners that the surgeon never approaches or recognizes. My teaching time has improved my surgical insight, but I still carry my trusty 30-year-old atlas from table to table as I tackle the students’ questions. Third, each year, I am reminded that human dissection is one of the watershed events of a medical career.
Life can be broken down to “pre-cadaver” and “post-cadaver” years. Looking back, the privilege of probing, examining, learning from, and marveling at another person’s anatomic secrets remains almost incomprehensible. The students, to varying degrees, sense this already.
As the head and neck portion of the course draws to a close, the students review their lists, preparing for a rigorous exam and searching out tiny anatomic structures. I tie the anatomy we are exploring to real patients' problems about which the students will soon be learning. I am already looking forward to next fall.