Young doctors gain vital knowledge of anatomy at UNE

Published 09 December 2008

anatomy.jpgMore than 20 young doctors from throughout eastern Australia are gaining their first experience of whole body dissection in a week-long course for surgical trainees at the University of New England.

The course – the first of its kind in Australasia and now in its ninth year – has come to UNE’s School  of Rural Medicine at the end of that School’s first year of teaching. This year, for the first time, the course is residential, with the participants staying at UNE’s Mary White College.

The doctors, whose dissection experience as undergraduates was limited to working on “prosections” (i.e., pre-prepared parts of cadavers) say their overwhelming feeling on approaching a whole body is one of gratitude to the donor.

“We’re grateful that someone has given us this opportunity to learn by donating their body,” said Dr Ben East, who grew up in Armidale and is training to be an orthopaedic surgeon at the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. “We all approach the bodies with great respect, and place the highest value on the knowledge we gain from them.”

The initiator and organiser of the course is Associate Professor Fiona Stewart, a UNE graduate who now teaches anatomy in UNE’s School of Rural Medicine. Dr Stewart said the course was designed as “remediation” – addressing a decline in the training of undergraduate doctors in anatomy over the past 25 years. She described the course, which is for trainees of the Royal Australasian  College of Surgeons, as “an intensive whole body dissection course, expert-led, and facilitated by surgeon-teachers – specialists in the specific regions dissected”.

“We start with the basics, including the use of instruments – even how to attach a scalpel blade,” she said. “Lectures on specific regions of the body are followed by dissection sessions focusing on those regions.”

Dr Stewart’s undergraduate students at UNE, who have completed just one year of their Bachelor of Medicine degree program – including an elective anatomy course – are already competent enough to assist in the dissection sessions. “It’s teaching them how to teach,” Dr Stewart said.

The participants in the course are enthusiastic about Dr Stewart’s organisation of the program. “Fiona does a lot of work behind the scenes to make it all possible,” said Dr Natalie Rainger from Inverell, who has assisted Dr Stewart in two previous courses, and is now a surgical trainee herself – training at Orange  Hospital to be an ear, nose and throat specialist. And all the participants agree that UNE’s state-of-the-art anatomy laboratory is the best they have encountered.

“Coming back to New England, it’s good to see the School of Rural Medicine promoting medical services in this and other rural areas,” Dr Rainger said, adding that she was impressed with the quality of UNE’s first cohort of medical students.

The course participants are training in specialties including orthopaedics, neurosurgery, dental surgery, and radiology. One of the specialist surgeons instructing them is Mr David Storey from Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, a gastro-intestinal specialist who has appeared in the television series RPA. Others include Mr Bruce French, a cardio-thoracic specialist at Liverpool Hospital and Strathfield Private Hospital, and the prominent orthopaedic surgeons Mr Michael Shatwell and Mr James Powell. Dr Stewart herself, UNE’s Associate Professor Hans Dahl, and several Armidale-based doctors – including the specialist surgeon Dr Robert French – are also among the instructors.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, focusing on tools for the study of anatomy, expands to show Dr Natalie Rainger and Dr Ben East preparing for one of the dissection sessions during the anatomy course.