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Anatomy For Its Own Sake

Graham Whiteside established a company called Anatomic Excellence to serve as the agent for Gunther Von Hagens’ plastination specimens in Canada, the Caribbean, and the United States.

As our recent interview with Graham Whiteside on the Anatomy in Clay® podcast makes clear, he is very passionate and thoughtful about the instruction of anatomy. (You can see the YouTube version here).

We’ll post a longer blog soon about the chat with Whiteside, but we want to take moment and put a gold star on something he said during the podcast that echoes with the long-held thoughts of Anatomy in Clay® Learning System founder Jon Zahourek.

It’s this:

Learning anatomy is not a means to an end.

We need to learn anatomy for its own sake, to understand ourselves.

“What is the aim of anatomy education?” asks Whiteside.

This question, he relayed later, was his personal response to a question raised by an audience member at a recent conference in relation to a presentation on a medical school anatomy program that does not include dissection-based teaching.

“But, how do you teach surgeons?” says Whiteside. As he underscores, “the aim of anatomy education is to teach anatomy. It's not to create surgeons.”

Importantly, Whiteside qualifies this by identifying that a dissection-based program does not teach surgical techniques. Dissection teaches transferable skills and may enable a student to ascertain whether they have what it takes to operate on the human body—however, surgical education and future surgeons are crafted in the surgical specialty rotations!

But key anatomical concepts need to be broached with students long before decisions around medical career training.

“I go into the seventh-grade classes for a whole day,” says Whiteside, “We show the digestive system, circulatory, respiratory system, various muscles, bones, head, neck and nervous system, and we talk about understanding themselves first, but also the value of understanding human body in relation to future career opportunities.”

And it’s not only about medical careers, Whiteside notes.

For instance, he says, an artist might need to know the attachment and insertion points of muscles to make a superhero look more dynamic—and authentic—in a drawing. An engineer might need to understand the human body to build personalized seats for astronauts. A young athlete who understands his or her body might have the most success, as well as a prolonged career, in the world of sports.

However, as Whiteside would no doubt agree, there doesn’t have to be a reason. It’s because we are human beings and our bodies are the one thing (the only thing) we truly own.

And that reminds us of one of Jon Zahourek’s core questions: How are we supposed to know who we are if you don’t know what we are?

And that reminded us of this six-minute video produced when Jon Zahourek worked with 30 students from Germany, India, and Africa at the former Anatomy in Clay® Centers in Denver.

The high school students were attending a science camp run by X-SCI, the Experiential Science Research Collaborative at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The video gives a sampling of the fun Zahourek injects into the work, including skits and games.

“Our anatomy influences every small action we do, like whether it's taking a step or even routine things like brushing your teeth or having a bath, there's so many things going on,” says Neha Sharon Jacob, a student from Bangalore, India in the video. “Your muscles are working, your nerves are working, they're sending messages. So even though many people may not realize it, anatomy is like an integral part in our everyday lives. And that's what makes it so fascinating for me … Everything you learn we learn about anatomy we can see it like in our bodies itself and it's very cool to see how the human body works and there's so many components and elements—it’s really fascinating.”

All by itself.

Amen, Neha.

And thank you, Graham Whiteside.






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