February 2015 | ISSUE 16
Multidisciplinary team animates anatomy

By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations

Just as LKCMedicine students interact with patients and the healthcare system from the outset of their course, they also benefit from a systems-based approach during their pre-clinical years that keeps the clinical relevance at its core.

Rather than going through a sequence of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology to cover the structure and function of the human body, the systems-based approach adopted by LKCMedicine is built around body systems, such as the cardiorespiratory, gastrointestinal (GI) and musculoskeletal systems.

Assistant Dean for Phase 1 Professor Michael Ferenczi said, “Modern medicine is an integrated multidisciplinary approach to patient care, and we want to mirror this in our teaching. Integrating the physiology, biochemistry and anatomy of a particular body system creates a cohesive and meaningful picture of its structure and function. We augment this by adding clinical perspectives.”

To bring the clinical relevance to anatomy teaching, the School has designed a multi-pronged approach that supplements traditional anatomical study with clinical imaging technologies such as ultrasound, x-rays and MRIs, and clinical scenarios.

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LKCMedicine’s team-based anatomy teaching involves (clockwise from top left): clinical content experts, radiologists, pathologists and anatomists

After preparing for lessons with voicedover PowerPoints prepared by lecturers from Imperial, students come for their anatomy practical sessions before the theory and application exercises.

Lead for Anatomy Assistant Professor Dinesh Srinivasan said, “We use plastinated bodies and specimens to give our students a hands-on experience of anatomy and to visualise how the body is put together. With the theory following the practical, the students can fall back on the visual memory to help them understand the theory and apply their knowledge during discussions.”

Through histology, students learn to distinguish normal and abnormal tissues. With this visual aid, Lead for Pathology Assistant Professor Nandini Rao wants students to understand the function of the cells in a particular organ and how this relates to the disease process. She said, “With histology, we really want the students to understand cells’ morphological adaptations, not just be able to name the cell type. For example, the GI tract is lined with epithelial cells, but at each stage of the tract, they are modified to perform the necessary function to allow the body to efficiently absorb and digest nutrition and excrete what’s left.”

These two perspectives are complemented by radiology, which builds a bridge between gross and clinical anatomy. Lead for Body Structures & Imaging Assistant Professor Gerald Tan said, “Radiology marries body structure with function by showing the dynamic processes taking place in the body.” For example, using ultrasound, students can observe the passage of blood as the heart pumps or the course of urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

With the help and guidance of practising clinicians, students build a solid understanding of the structures of the human body and how systems function, giving them an insight into how this knowledge supports clinical decisionmaking. For example, the Blood, GI & Infection Block brings together surgeons and infectious diseases experts.

Lead for Infectious Diseases and Blood, GI & Infection Block Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian said, “We believe that closer integration between anatomists and clinicians boosts the stickiness factor of anatomy teaching, so that when the students enter their clinical years, they have better recall of the relevant facts.”

Lead for Surgery Professor Vijayan Appasamy, who worked with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)’s Department of General Surgery Consultant Assistant Professor Glenn Tan on this teaching block, agrees. He believes that this systems-based approach is like a jigsaw; it creates a complete picture that is much more memorable than its individual pieces.

“Correlating what students have to learn, in applied basic sciences with something they can relate to, such as abdominal stomach pain, helps them to understand and retain the relevant facts and concepts, making it easier for them to apply this knowledge when they go through their clinical years,” said Prof Appasamy, who is a senior consultant with TTSH’s Department of General Surgery.

This approach has gone down well with the students.

Year 2 student Brenton Sio said, “Our School’s innovative approach to anatomy teaching encourages a lot of independent learning and at the same time, provides the necessary guidance and facilities. The systems approach accentuates the functional aspects in the body’s intricate structures and gives us a holistic picture of the functional relationships of our anatomy.

“But the best part is our teachers – both the faculty and clinicians who take time out to share with us the importance of anatomy to their work.”