The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Traditionalists vs. Modernists

Medical students

Medical students at the University of Nottingham prepare for a dissection practical.

One complaint noted by Abraham Flexner in his 1910 report was that much of medical education was done via quizzes – students would memorize “minute details” out of any context, take a quiz, and then be unable to connect those details to the treatment of patients.

Hands-on learning became the norm in medical education, particularly the hands-on dissection of human bodies to learn anatomy.  However, the amount of time devoted to gross anatomy has diminished in the last 60 years:  in 1955, 335 hours of medical education was spent in learning gross anatomy; in 1973, 195 hours, and in 2009, 149 hours.

Debates regarding the best means of teaching anatomy exist between “traditionalists,” those professionals who believe that cadaveric dissection provides the best experience, and “modernists,” those who believe that new teaching and learning modalities should take precedence.  Self-directed learning, problem-based learning, and awareness of adult learning styles have put pressure on medical educators to adapt to changing needs, and to stimulate interest among diverse groups of students.

The introduction of a new learning tool should be done with the goal of contributing to the assimilation of knowledge in any field.  Explore the examples of digital surrogates that follow, and consider their effectiveness in building core knowledge of human anatomy.