For the first time this past summer, Joshua Rowe used the CANIKEN® model to teach students in his summer anatomy boot camp at Lincoln Memorial University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee.
The college is located at the base of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park—the first great gateway to the west.
During the two-week camp, Rowe alternated teaching the canine forelimb using the CANIKEN® model—building the muscles from the inside out, in clay—with traditional dissection of a cat forelimb. He used the same approach on the pelvic limb, alternating clay construction with dissection.
The boot camp is “low stakes or no stakes,” says Rowe, given that there are no grades. The boot camp is an optional experience for students who will be heading into the challenging first-year course of Gross Anatomy and who want a head start on their studies. Rowe has also noted that the camp draws both strong students, who may have had anatomy courses in the past but take advantage of every learning opportunity they encounter, and those who have never been exposed to an anatomy course. The boot camp, says Rowe, “levels the playing field.”
Rowe’s point is that during boot camp students aren’t burning the midnight oil to cram for tests, as they’ll likely be once the semester begins and tests are extremely high-stake affairs.
Despite the lack of testing pressure, however, Rowe noticed something during the more low-key camp.
“When I came in each morning I would quiz them informally on what we had done the day before, and I was shocked at how much they remembered” from using the CANIKEN® model, says Rowe. “I did get some feedback from students that having built it from deep to superficial and then dissecting from superficial to deep, that the understanding and the expectations of ‘where am I going to find this muscle?’ and ‘how does this muscle relate to ones around it?’ really seemed to improve. I think they got a lot out of it.”
In fact, says Rowe, the Anatomy in Clay system may even have some advantages over dissection when it comes to understanding muscle origins, insertions, attachments, actions, and what joints are crossed. This observations, he notes, is strictly anecdotal. But Rowe notes that in dissection you might be able to say that you identified a muscle once you’ve uncovered a small part of it, but you might not have observed all the interactions that muscle has with those in its anatomical neighborhood. In dissection, he asks, do you really get to see where each muscle begins and ends? Do you get to study all the interplay that is happening?
At least one student agrees.
“The summer anatomy boot camp for LMU’s veterinary program has been a blessing,” veterinary biomedical sciences student Ariel Gardner told in an LMU News Service release. “Creating clay models of the animals we would be dissecting was a key part to my understanding of the material. Being able to first place the muscle layers and understand how they connect throughout the animal’s body enhanced my comprehension of the material once we started dissections.”
The clay construction method, Rowe notes, will never replace dissection. (We agree.) Future surgeons need to approach anatomy as they will when they make their first incision. They need to know what to expect.
Again, makes sense to us!
Dr. Joshua Rowe is in his fourth year of teaching at Lincoln Memorial University. He also taught at Kansas State University. His DVM and PhD in Comparative and Experimental Medicine are from the University of Tennessee.
Rowe considers himself a “classical veterinary anatomist.” As an early vet student, Rowe knew he did not want to go into traditional clinical practice. So when a professor steered him into teaching during his first year of vet school, a light bulb went off—a way to contribute to the profession without directly becoming a clinical practitioner.
To Rowe, anatomy is similar to engineering (a subject he likes).
“It’s really all about how the parts come together to make a dog function as a dog and a horse function as a horse,” he says.
Rowe says he first saw the Anatomy in Clay system at the biennial meeting of the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists in 2017.
Like any good scientist, he says, he was a skeptic at first. He wasn’t sure about deploying them during “regular” coursework, but he thought boot camp would be a good place to start. Now, he’s thinking about using them during the school year, too. And he has brought them out to off-campus meetings of the Applied Anatomy Club.
Because the whole hands-on learning process is fun, he says, students are often “learning without realizing it.” In boot camp, Rowe noted that students really seemed to enjoy the hands-on work. Their stress level drops, he says. “They were smiling and joking.”
And at the head of the class, Rowe said he felt a bit like Bob Ross, referencing the longtime Joy of Painting television host who was known for encouraging viewers to paint while he demonstrated techniques. “Let’s put a happy little tendon over here and I think this muscle needs a friend,” says Rowe, laughing. (He said he spared his students actual impressions.)
Yes, happy little tendons. And all muscles need friends. And who needs stress when you’re studying anatomy?
We couldn’t agree more.
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