Surviving Gross Anatomy Lab

I think this is the class that marks a student’s entrance into medical school. I know for me this is the class that made me feel like I was a real medical student. Some people are pretty nervous and squeamish about cadaver lab.  I was not one of those people. I was super excited and couldn’t wait to get started! At Bastyr we are expected to wear a thick, reusable hazmat suit and ventilator mask with filters graded for formaldehyde. There’s been some unfortunate criticism of Bastyr for this policy. There’s been opinions expressed that our cadaver lab is old, outdated, not well ventilated and a definite negative to the school.  I did not find any of these rumors to be true. It’s possible that the lab might seem “old”; the building is older, but I don’t find that a negative. We have everything we need in the lab to make it useful. The ventilation is up to standard, it is approved by OSHA as having safe levels of formaldehyde exposure to medical students.  The hazmat suit and mask are required to protect the health (especially the liver) of the student.  The room has a bank of window on one side that bring in lots of natural light. Additionally, the professor that runs the lab keeps ferns growing all over the lab to make it less sterile feeling and to enhance filtration of the air. All that said, I wouldn’t spend much time in the lab without my suit and mask. I found it much easier to dissect when I didn’t need to worry about anything soaking into my clothes. The more covered you are the less likely you are to smell of formaldehyde once you leave the lab.

As far as studying for and learning gross anatomy: lectures in the theory part of gross anatomy were slightly helpful, although just studying from the competencies seemed sufficient if I couldn’t make the lecture.  The gross lab instructor held optional tutorials once a week, both outside of lab which were lecture/drawing style, and a tutorial inside the lab where we could see the parts on a prosection. I found both of these immensely helpful.  The other option provided, and highly suggested, is to go into the lab at times other than your normal lab time and go through the structures you are currently learning. I found this the least helpful, partly because during the majority of the year I was in gross lab these were only allowed at specific times and there were usually a lot of people in the lab, especially right before midterms or finals. I found it hard to concentrate with so many people walking around and talking and discussing. Often I found that I would think one thing and someone would tell me it was something else. It seems like every time that happened it would turn out with later checking that I was right and they were misleading me.  Not a big deal, but frustrating for me when I was on the right track and was convinced I was wrong.  So the lesson is trust your instincts if you think you may  be right. The other study techniques that I found most helpful were studying from Rohen’s Color Atlas of Anatomy. I would go through the pertinent pages and quiz myself based on the photos. This might not work for everyone, you have to be able to think and imagine in 3D for this to be highly successful. I found it worked quite well for me. The other techniques I used were drawing, lots and lots of drawing! You don’t have to be good at drawing, as long as it makes sense to you it’s going to help.


This is a great drawing, not mine! But something to give you inspiration.

My first quarter of ND medical school

I’m in my 2nd year of Naturopathic Medical school at Bastyr University. I plan on writing more posts about classes I’ve taken and my suggestions for how to succeed. I also plan on writing about my experiences in seeing naturopathic medicine at work in the clinic where I observe. At the end of my 2nd year I will be what was formerly known as a secondary student clinician. More on that later… For now I want to start at the beginning.

My first experience with ND medical school was the pre-quarter before first year. This was over a year ago in July of 2013.  I opted to take some of my fall classes the summer before. I had taken time off beforehand so I was ready for classes. I didn’t want to wait any longer before jumping in since I’d already had some time off.  My first classes were Integrated Structure and Function, Research Design, and Constitutional Assessment. 12.5 credits.

ISF – This is an integrated class meaning they attempt to combine Histology, embryology and biochemistry teaching all three separate but trying, where possible, to integrate concepts across molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. At this point it didn’t seem very integrated. I think it’s difficult to integrate all these different studies exactly. The integration aspect was much more obvious with the later classes in fall and beyond.

Overall you will be learning the basics in all three disciplines. Histology in the summer quarter included a lab time. This was great and from what I understand it was not offered in the fall quarter. I feel lucky that I had this lab time. Our instructor was great at making the ideas and concepts come alive. She insisted we have a histology lab book where we were required to do hand drawings of the tissue types we studied. This is an excellent way to learn. My biggest and most important piece of advice that I can give is to draw your way through the first year.  I had hoped in my undergraduate when I had to take that art elective that my drawing class would help me later, and it did!

For this notebook we had to sketch the tissue at a certain magnification and answer a few questions. I recommend also listing the function of the tissue, how it differs from a similar looking tissue and any structural hints for recognizing it later. The other thing I did that helped me learn them very quickly was I downloaded a program called Anki. A few classmates also did this and together we would find pictures online of the tissue we were studying and paste them into Anki and make our own “intelligent” online flashcards that we could share. Anki is a simple program available for free on all platforms. This made it easy to study for a few minutes wherever I was. It also has a way of figuring out which cards you still need to study more and which you can study less. I wish I could have used it more during the year but it is time intensive to get your study set together and I just didn’t usually have time to set it up. I think the most important idea for studying is that you are building something with the material you are studying. I have notebooks full of drawing and notes, lists, structures, etc. It was the process of building these that helped me more than actually studying them. Along this line just using someone else’s notes to study from might not be enough. There were lots of people sharing beautiful, organized, highly detailed notes, but it just didn’t do it for me to passively use these to study.

Research Design class was pretty straightforward. Read the text, go to lecture, take the online quizzes. Not difficult material, especially if you’ve had any exposure to types of research. Definitely useful material that you will need to be familiar with later. Also some training in how to access research articles.

Constitutional Assessment – a very, very basic overview of different modes of assessing a patient’s constitution. From Ayurveda, to Chinese medicine, tongue diagnosis, pulse diagnosis, really basic intro to homeopathy, and humors. Really basic, easy class. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Gives you an idea of what you might be interested in pursuing in more detail at a later date.