Is cadaveric dissection essential in medical education? A qualitative survey comparing pre-and post-COVID-19 anatomy courses

Smriti Kochhar, BA; Tasfia Tasnim, BS; and Adarsh Gupta, DO
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: January 20, 2022

Accepted: June 28, 2022

Published: August 30, 2022

  • Smriti Kochhar, BA, 

    Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ, USA

  • Tasfia Tasnim, BS, 

    Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ, USA

  • Adarsh Gupta, DO, 

    Department of Family Medicine, Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ, USA

J Osteopath Med; 123(1): 19-26

Context: With the surge of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19]), the modality of teaching anatomy has shifted from in-person cadaveric dissection to virtual lessons for incoming first-year medical students. As a result, we aim to assess the impact that this curriculum change has on student perspectives.

Objectives: This study aims to understand the relative effect of a virtual anatomy course implemented during the pandemic (2019–2020) on the confidence, skills, and perspectives of first-year medical students compared to medical students who had traditional in-person anatomy at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (Rowan SOM) in Stratford, New Jersey.

Methods: The authors developed a 14-question survey to target gross anatomy students of the Classes of 2023 and 2024 at Rowan SOM. The Class of 2024 had a virtual anatomy lab compared to the Class of 2023, who had an in-person anatomy lab in their first year of medical school. The responses were analyzed to understand the difference between a hands-on cadaver lab and a virtual anatomy lab utilizing SPSS.

Results: The survey was administered to approximately 400 people, from which we received 149 responses (37.3%). Among all responses, 36.2% (n=54) belonged to the Class of 2023 who encountered hands-on cadaver experience, whereas 63.8% (n=95) belonged to the Class of 2024 who gained virtual anatomy lab experience. An independent t-test statistical analysis was utilized. Under the confidence domain, when students were asked about the understanding of trauma after their respective anatomy labs, 64.0% of the Class of 2023 (n=50) showed significantly higher confidence with p<0.001, compared to 15.4% for the Class of 2024 (n=78). Under the skills domain, the Class of 2023 (n=50) felt more comfortable with ultrasound (64.0%), identifying all of the pertinent anatomical structures and their respective locations on imaging (72.0%), and identifying the pathology (90.0%) with respective p values of <0.001, <0.001, and 0.004. Only 36.9% of Class of 2024 respondents shared similar comfort with ultrasound (n=84), 30.9% identifying pertinent anatomical structures (n=84) and 65.4% in identifying pathology (n=84). Under the attitude domain, the Class of 2023 (n=50) had more respect toward the human body with their hands-on cadaver experience (88.0%) than the Class of 2024 (n=89, 33.3%).

Conclusions: Based on current results, it can be established that medical students who had in-person cadaveric dissection had a favorable attitude toward their anatomy course compared to students who had virtual anatomy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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