The importance of exposure to human material in anatomical education: A philosophical perspective


  • Thomas H. Gillingwater

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Integrative Physiology, College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    • College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine, Hugh Robson Building, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XD, UK
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Despite reductions in the importance, time committed to, and status of anatomical education in modern medical curricula, anatomical knowledge remains a cornerstone of medicine and related professions. Anatomists are therefore presented with the challenge of delivering required levels of core anatomical knowledge in a reduced time-frame and with fewer resources. One common response to this problem is to reduce the time available for students to interact with human specimens (either via dissection or handling of prosected material). In some curricula, these sessions are replaced with didactic or problem-based approaches focussed on transmitting core anatomical concepts. Here, I propose that the adoption of philosophical principles concerning the relationship and differences between “direct experience” and “concept” provides a strong case in support of requiring students to gain significant exposure to human material. These insights support the hypothesis that direct experience of human material is required for “deep,” rather than “superficial,” understanding of anatomy. Anat Sci Ed 1:264–266, 2008. © 2008 American Association of Anatomists.