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Bringing Residents Back to the Anatomy Lab


Residents are going back to the cadaver lab, thanks to an innovative program led by Danielle Royer, PhD, assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. Royer, along with anesthesiologist Adrian Hendrickse, MD, created a program that gives Anesthesia residents in the Acute Pain Service a chance to hone their skills using a specially dissected cadaver.

“The residents haven’t been exposed to gross anatomy since the beginning of their studies,” said Royer. “Dr. Hendrickse and I started talking about how an exercise in applied anatomy would give greater context to the landmarks they look for on scans.”

At this point in their training, the residents are experienced in using ultrasound to guide nerve block placements. They know which landmarks they need to see prior to placing the needle. “This stage of their training has been focused on the ‘how’ but not necessarily the ‘why.’ They know they need to see the first rib. By revisiting the cadaver, they are able to see how the first rib protects the lung, giving context to how each part of the body interacts.”

Attendings have appreciated having a chance to enhance the training they provide. “The attendings who come through have worked with these residents before. They’re able to say to residents, ‘I noticed you have a tendency to point the needle this way, and you can see here on the cadaver how that needs to be corrected,’” she said.

Thus far,  seven residents, a fellow, and a student nurse anesthetist have been through the program. Each small group session was jointly led by an attending and anatomist. Though the program is new, Royer and Dr. Hendrickse are already seeing it as a success. “The entire group was in awe by how it all came together. After the first session, it was clear that we were on to something worthwhile,” she said.

Royer hopes to see if a return to basic sciences in the later years of training becomes a trend.

“Medical education has done a good job of integrating clinical sciences into the first couple of years to give important context to the basic sciences,” she said. “But there hasn’t been a lot of vertical movement of the basic sciences back up. We think this program could be a powerful model of the value of further integration.”

The program also represents a collaboration with the master’s students in the Modern Human Anatomy program, which Royer helps to oversee. Her students were hired to prepare the cadaver for the anesthesia residents. “Our students are very skilled,” she said. “We are an underutilized resource, and we hope to find new ways to collaborate with other programs on campus in the future.”