By Wendy Sarubbi | February 15, 2013 9:05 am
Dr. Andrew Payer

For first-year medical students at the UCF College of Medicine, the answers to life and death often lie under the magnification of a high-powered microscope. Thanks to cutting-edge equipment and an innovative curriculum, students are finding those answers as they complete 17 weeks in the Anatomy Lab.­

The lab is a rite of passage for young medical students who learn anatomy by studying the remains of people who have willed their bodies to science. But unlike many medical schools, UCF’s clinical anatomist, Dr. Andrew Payer does not tell students the actual cause of death of their cadaver. Instead, students must be detectives, find clues about their first patient’s cause of death and prepare a final cadaver/autopsy report and grand rounds type presentation to students and faculty at the end of the lab.

Dr. Mujtaba Husain

In order to properly document their observations and findings, hands-on pathological learning is possible thanks to the support of Dr. Mujtaba Husain, professor of pathology. When students find something suspicious, they can order a biopsy or other tissue test to confirm their suspicions. As part of his teaching, Dr. Husain challenges students to think for themselves. “When they tell me they want a biopsy, I ask them, ‘Why do you want to biopsy that?’” he said. “It’s a process of active learning.”

While most medical schools focus on learning detailed anatomy, they do not include the cellular basis of disease in Anatomy Lab, Dr. Husain said. “This is the best example of the spirit of inquiry in a medical curriculum.” It’s a mission that’s pursued throughout the College of Medicine.

Human cells can tell the story of disease. While most people associate biopsies with cancer, Dr. Husain said cellular studies can also help diagnose numerous other health problems, including diabetes and emphysema.

Once a biopsy is completed, Dr. Husain reviews the findings with students using the medical school’s 10-headed microscope, which is similar to equipment used in hospital pathology labs. The giant microscope allows a team of students to see the same cellular evidence at the same time and to compare diseased cells with normal ones.

Medical students come equipped with plenty of curiosity when they enter Dr. Husain’s lab, especially when it comes to their very first cadavers. Whenever they notice questionable findings like possible cancer cells or calcification of the heart, they explain why it appears that way. Dr. Husain helps to keep students on the right track, but makes sure they are using their own knowledge to draw conclusions.

The students presented their autopsy reports to faculty members and other judges on Monday, February 11. One of those judges was Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia, who is featured on the Discovery Channel show, “Dr. G, Medical Examiner.” She presented the award to the winning team of students who were the most accurate in determining their patient’s actual cause of death.

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