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ETSU medical school students now have much less messy way to learn anatomy with iPads

Rex Barber • Nov 5, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Gross anatomy at East Tennessee State University’s medical school used to involve referring back to several books, notes and other materials while students’ gloved hands were covered in fluid from dissecting a cadaver.

The pages of these important (and expensive) texts often got messy in the process.

iPads attached to swivel arms connected to the dissection tables have eliminated the need for multiple paper sources now. The tablet computers were first used in the James H. Quillen College of Medicine’s medical human gross anatomy and embryology course this semester. Each first-year medical student must take this course.

Dr. Caroline Abercrombie, director of the school’s anatomy lab, said the inclusion of iPads provides a higher level of teaching because students can find answers easier by searching through apps on their iPads that display a 3D model of the entire human body and all its systems. Students can just tap on a muscle, organ or bone for a full description of it.

Essentially, for purposes of the anatomy class information from three or four textbooks are loaded on the iPads, as well as lectures and notes. The iPads are suspended above the cadaver dissection tables providing easy access for any of the four students assigned to a particular cadaver or “first patient,” as the students are taught to think of them.

“So this is something the students used to have to dig through quite a few resources to put together, and with the courses being so tight on time and medical students’ curriculum already being so demanding, I think it’s nice for them to have everything right there in front of them for a reference,” Abercrombie said. “But the books would just get goo on them and the pages stick and it’s just so much easier to type in a keyword and go to it instead of thumbing through an index and un-sticking all the pages.”

ETSU’s setup is unique. According to the school, no other medical college likely has this kind of anatomy lab with iPads on swivel arms.

Prior to the iPads there were book stands that sat like a pyramid over the cadaver table and students stood on either side looking at their own materials.

“So there was no sharing of material,” Abercrombie said. “You were very separated. I mean, there was still a team approach to the dissection but it was definitely not as well as what we are seeing now with the institution of the new technology.”

Abercrombie began efforts to get these iPads about two years ago. The iPads and arms to hold them above the cadaver dissecting tables were purchased with student technology access fees. The swivel arms were made specifically for the tables and by the father of a medical school alumnus.

The iPads can display pictures and walkthroughs that the instructor wants students to see. Students also use the iPads to take photos of various parts of their “first patients” that they can email to themselves and later use in “patient case presentations” held at the end of the year.

This is important because students are learning about using tablets to develop a presentation with other students. Doctors collaborate and give presentations throughout their careers, and ETSU said tablets are increasingly becoming the preferred method of delivery.

Niti Yogesh, a first-year medical student, said the upcoming patient case presentations utilizing the iPads will be a great experience. She was happy to have been able to use the iPads during the anatomy course.

“And that was really a neat experience for us because each group was given a case of a disease and we were able to elaborate on that, do our own research and have fun with it with our group using the technology involved,” she said.

Nineteen iPads were purchased for the lab, one for each cadaver tank. All faculty members have one. Five are available for fourth-year electives. There are also a few more available.

Lorenzo Olive, a first-year medical student, said the apps on the iPad are a tremendous help. He even bought some of them for his personal iPad.

“I think one of the biggest things having the setup that we have with the apps and the iPad is it allows us to have more ownership in our studies and allows us to be more creative as far as being able to access all the different apps and then have instant access to the Internet to pull up notes,” he said.

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