European Journal of Anatomy

Official Journal of The Spanish Society of Anatomy
Cover Volume 18 - Number 3
Eur J Anat, 18 (3): 219-244 (2014)

The History of the Teaching of Gross Anatomy - How we got to where we are!

Bernard J. Moxham1 and Odile Plaisant2

1Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, Wales, U.K. and St George’s University, Grenada, West Indies and 2Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Faculté de Médicine, URDIA EA4465, Paris, France

ABSTRACT Evidence primarily from historical considerations is gathered to compare a variety of approaches to the teaching and learning of gross (topographical) human anatomy. The historical approach adopted is not just a chronological approach to the development of pedagogy but is conceptually based to underline the changing culture of medicine and the ways in which normal and abnormal structure and function have been considered. Although there is often claimed to be an unbreachable divide between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘modernists’ amongst teachers of gross anatomy, and although the method of teaching gross anatomy by means of dissection by the students is frequently referred to as the ‘traditional’ method, historically this method only came into its heyday relatively recently when legislation permitted a sufficiency of bodies to dissect and with the advent of experiential learning and the development of the idea of students achieving competency skills. Paradoxically, the so-called ‘modern’ way (e.g. problem-based learning, computer-based learning) that relies more on library/book work and computer simulations harks back to the pre-Renaissance scholastic approach. Our findings suggest that, as anatomy teaching has moved away from dissection by students, the culture of medicine has become more inclined towards the disease-based model and not towards the functionality (health) -based model. Overall, we conclude that the main focus of attention historically has been the rôle of dissection. Where in the past religious authorities were foremost in condemning dissection now it is academic and postmodernist strictures that denigrate historical perspectives.

European Journal of anatomy
ISSN 2340-311X (Online)