How Do You Prepare for Human Structure and Function?

Jessica Huang
uvmmedicine blogger Jessica Huang ’17

How does one prepare for a course like HSF – a course that combines anatomy, physiology, histology, and embryology, all of which could be their own separate class, and is taught in 12 short weeks? I had just survived a grueling month of CMB and in less than 24 hours, I will be taking on one of the most difficult courses that all physicians take as a rite of passage. To prepare myself for this course:

I collected tips from veterans like the way a stamp collector would collect stamps. I have been asking upperclassmen about their HSF experiences to get a sense of what the next three months will be like. I’ve even asked my PCR preceptor, guest lecturers, and physicians I have been meeting if they have any tips on surviving the course. The responses varied and at times contradicted one another: “Just read the Red Book;” “Get as many supplemental books as possible; “I only use Netter’s atlas;” “I always had 3 atlas opened.” Ahh … advice overload? Yet, the consensus is clear, while the course will certainly be one of the most challenging I will encounter, it will also be one of the most fascinating and enlightening. I know I am really looking forward to learning all the bones, arteries, nerves, and muscles that control my daily movements.

I reflected on my past encounters with bodies. I thought back to the summer of my freshman year in undergraduate when I shadowed a cardiac-thoracic surgeon. I distinctly remember a mitral valve replacement surgery I observed in which I was taken aback by the smell of burnt flesh and the sound and sight of the sternum being cracked. It almost seemed inhumane. Yet, I know the person on the operating table does not feel the pain during the surgery and would benefit immensely from the operation. For the rest of the procedure, I had to keep that big picture in mind and remove the emotions and empathy I was starting to feel for the patient. I imagine I might feel similarly when I first begin working with the cadavers in the anatomy lab. I may initially find it inhumane to cut into another person’s body but my reservation may change as I am reminded of the learning objectives of the dissection. Perhaps I may become even more eager as I begin to see the interior structure of the body and understand how the structure of a bone or muscle contributes to its functions.

I watched several dissection videos to mentally prepare myself. I was actually surprised to see skin on the cadaver in the videos because all the cadavers I have seen in the past already had their skin removed. It dawned on me then that I, along with my group mates, will be slowly stripping the entire body of its skin and removing its muscles and organs. We will become very intimate with our donor body as we see how his or her diet, lifestyle, and environment are reflected internally on the various body parts. I am excited for this exploratory journey, one that will allow me to see a body from the inside out.

I attended the HSF reflection ceremony to ask some last minute questions as well as learn more about the donor program. What an honor it is to know that so many individuals have selflessly donated their bodies to UVM to allow me and other medical students to learn about the body in such an intimate manner. I am reminded of this unique privilege I have to dissect a human body and am very thankful for it.

My goal for the next  three  months is to learn as much as possible while being mindful of this wonderful gift and opportunity I was given.

What are your thoughts about this topic?