By Wendy Sarubbi | February 24, 2014 2:24 pm

Anatomy Lab is a rite of passage for every first-year medical student. But at the UCF College of Medicine, students not only learn anatomy. They must determine the cause of death for their first patient, a person who generously willed their body to science.

After 17 weeks of analyzing blocked arteries, brains injured from strokes and the pathologies of diseased cells like cancer, students presented their findings at an annual Autopsy Challenge on February 10.

Anatomy Professor Andrew Payer developed the unique Anatomy Lab curriculum to replace mere memorization of anatomy terms with a spirit of inquiry, a scientific sense of curiosity. By understanding how disease impacted the life and well-being of their first patient, students can better understand the consequences of illness – and the need to prevent it.  “Students are very motivated because they feel this is clinical, and that’s what they’ve come here to learn as physicians,” Dr. Payer said. “They take a lot of pride in what they’ve done and that’s evident in the quality of the presentations.”

As UCF pathologist  Dr. Mujtaba Husain added, “A good physician is also a pathophysiologist. We have a unique opportunity to introduce pathophysiology in the first year for long-term memory retention.”

A panel of faculty members named Teams 10 and 12 as the winners of the challenge based on the quality of their presentation and the accuracy of their work. Each team split a cash prize and will have their names engraved on a plaque in the Anatomy Lab. Team 10 correctly determined that their patient had died of breast cancer; Team 12’s first patient had died of a subdural hematoma.

To reach their conclusions, first-year students analyzed each body system, one at a time, and noted abnormalities along the way. Some ordered biopsies and other cellular studies to diagnose disease.  “Our group went through quite an experience, because it seemed like every day that we did a dissection, we found something new that was wrong,” said first-year student  Jeremy Driscoll, who was on one of the winning teams. “But over 17 weeks, we were able to work as a team and piece the puzzle together.”

Piecing together the puzzle also involves asking for help from the experts, including volunteer and affiliated faculty members who donate time to help students in the Anatomy Lab. “What sets UCF apart from other schools is how much support we have from the medical community.” said first-year M.D. student Andrew Fontaine. “It’s amazing having all this wonderful faculty and volunteers to help us.”

Possessing a spirit of inquiry that welcomes the expertise of others is part of the lifelong learning process UCF is working to instill in its medical students.  “I hope I’m training them to realize that their knowledge is limited, and that when they’re stuck they should go get help,” Dr. Payer said. “One of their resources is to consult with a faculty member who is an expert in that area, which is something that all physicians have to learn how to do.”

As the students conclude Anatomy Lab, they will participate February 20 in a traditional “Send-Off Ceremony,” in which they thank their first patients for their selfless donation.  “I never walked in the lab and forgot that this person donated their body for us,” first-year student Angela DelPrete said. “It really humbles you in a sense that this person is serving you so that you can go out and serve others.”

Group 10

Group 12

Angela DelPrete

Andrew Fontaine

Tiffanie Do

Julie Glener

Jeremy Driscoll

Ashton Lee

Alexander Lim

Pedro Vianna

Robert Pride

Blake Sellers

Nomi Sherwin

Prisca Takundwa

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