August 30, 2011

Histology lab and quick curriculum organization overview

We had our first histology lab last week!  It was pretty neat, but before I go on, just a quick word on how the courses are organized here:

Traditionally, medical schools have different classes everyone is supposed to take, such as biochemistry, physiology, histology, anatomy, etc.  However, our school has changed their curriculum within the last three years over to the new “Organ-based module” system.  What this means is that instead of having 6 months worth of anatomy while also studying biochemistry, we will have anatomy (and histology) all throughout our 2 pre-clinical years in medical school, as we learn about particular organs.  This way, when we learn about the heart, for example, we will learn about the heart in lecture (the biochemical functions, physiology, etc), and concurrently do dissections of the heart in anatomy, while also learning about the pathologies (things that can go wrong with it) in histology.  I think med school makes a lot more sense this way, so you can integrate all the information you learn instead of having bits and pieces scattered throughout a general physiology course, then having to recall it again in anatomy a couple months later, and then again in a different course.

Anyway, so histology lab was pretty fun – we basically just looked at slides of different connective tissue and learned to recognize cell shapes (simple squamous, stratified cuboidal, etc).  I think I would rather like pathology – it’s neat to see all the staining of the cells and recognize different things going on.  I also haven’t really been able to use a light microscope since biology lab in high school, so that was fun. 

I’m really glad our school still lets us do “old-fashioned” things like looking at slides through a microscope.  I know a lot of schools are “upgrading” to having an all-computerized lab, so that basically their histology lab consists of just looking at slides of a powerpoint on the computer.  Where’s the fun and hands-on experience with that?  Sure they’re both slides, but with a real microscope, you actually have to learn to find abnormalities in the tissue instead of having it presented to you.  In real life, you won’t be given a section of tissue that perfectly illustrates what you’re looking for.  You have to hunt through sections and areas of each section until you see something strange. 

Some schools are even computerizing their anatomy labs!  Or have pre-dissected bodies, so all you have to do is look at it and recognize it.  To me, that defeats the whole purpose.  Now, I’m someone who is probably the least comfortable with dissecting what was once a living, breathing human being.  In fact, it is one of what I think will be my worst parts of med school, aside from needlesticks (I’m super afraid of needles) and possibly having to see people die on my shift.  However, I’m a firm believer of “if you’re going to do it, do it right.”  Anatomy has a specific purpose – to help us know what different parts of the body look like, so that we can use the information to help diagnose or treat someone (whether surgically or not).  At the same time, it trains us to work well with our hands.  If everything is already done for us, again you have the problem of having it done for you so you don’t learn how to do it correctly, and every person will have a slightly different manifestation, so you have to be able to recognize structures in different people, not just from a standardized slide.

Ah well.  I’m just glad our school is keeping to the “old-fashioned,” traditional way (except when change is actually better for learning, such as with the move towards an organ-based module curriculum). 

Med school exam (our first real one that counts!) on Friday.  Wish me luck!

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