By Wendy Sarubbi | February 8, 2016 3:00 pm

Their first patients had succumbed to heart disease, cancer, emphysema. But for UCF first-year medical students, the cause of death was just a fraction of what they learned about the people who had donated their bodies to science. The students’ 17 weeks of Anatomy Lab – a rite of passage in medical school – was a lesson in discovery, diagnosis, science and healing.

On February 1, the Class of 2019 presented Autopsy Reports to core and volunteer faculty. In the presentations, they analyzed what they had learned about their patients through dissection, medical imaging, pathology and research. Most medical schools treat Anatomy Lab as a module to teach and test parts of the human body. At UCF, that study is much broader. Students do not know their first patient’s cause of death. Instead, they spend the lab on a detective mission to find out. In doing so they learn how to use CT scans and analyze histology slides. They examine how their patient’s lifestyle — eating habits, exercise, type of work – likely impacted their life and death. The goal, says Anatomy Professor Dr. Andrew Payer, is that students don’t just memorize body parts. They apply science to real people who had real lives and real ailments.

At the end of the Autopsy Reports, Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean, told students that they had learned what others must wait until third year – when they are in clinics and hospitals – to master. “You are learning at a rate and are integrating science and clinical skills in a way none of us could have ever experienced,” she said. “You are learning how to think.”

Part of UCF’s anatomy training includes medical imaging. Thanks to a donation from Central Florida radiologist Dr. Rick Ramnath, students have a full CT scan of each cadaver, allowing them to see conditions like calcification of arteries before they ever begin dissecting. The scans also help them learn imaging in their first months of medical school. During many of the autopsy presentations, students explained how they had noticed conditions on the CT scan and then had learned the details of the pathology – such as stents and tumors – upon dissection.

Pathology is another subject integrated into Anatomy Lab. Dr. Mujtaba Husain, professor of pathology, prepared 142 biopsies from the 20 cadavers and reviewed results with students so they could understand what cells were telling them about the patient’s disease. Many autopsy reports showed those images identifying conditions like cancer and inflammation – something pathology residents in the audience said impressed them.

Two teams received awards for their presentations based on evaluations from faculty. Their names will be added to plaques in the Anatomy Lab. The winners are:

Team 17

Lauren Fragapane, Daniel McElroy, Alicia Eubanks, Sophia Kim, Katharyn Brennan, Saad Nini

Team 5

Allyson Brown, Arron Smith, Garrett Stoltzfus, Angela Sterling, Carlos Delgado, Ahmed Lababidi

“They never disappoint me,” Dr. Payer said of the students and their reports. “They’re studying this science in the clinical environment. They’re applying it. They’re working like doctors.”

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