Medical schools should integrate 3D human body simulation for better learning experience

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As a freshman MBBS student in 2011, eager to learn anatomy from a passionate and knowledgeable teacher, I vividly remember sneaking off my own dissecting table and climbing onto a stool just to get a good view of the ongoing dissection demonstration for another batch. While this event surely demonstrates my desire to learn, it demonstrates more importantly the fundamental problems that plague the teaching of anatomy, one of the most fundamental subjects in the study of medicine, which barely gets the respect he deserves. The problems are many, including the following:

  1. Widespread use of bland two/three-dimensional (2D/3D) images in textbooks/classrooms, which cannot do justice to anatomy, a visual and tactile science
  2. Although ideally practical dissection should eclipse the aforementioned problem, the fact remains that in colleges across India there are inadequate cadavers, with an average cadaver:student ratio of 1:20 against the ideal 1:10.[1]
  3. Although not widely discussed and not explicitly stated, it is unfortunate that a considerable proportion of the subject’s faculty are made up of teachers not by choice, but by chance.[2] This aspect often weighs on the quality of education.

It wasn’t until a third year MBBS student, struggling to understand the anatomy and mechanics of the larynx, that I came across a resource that had the potential to overcome many of the limitations mentioned above. : 3D simulation anatomy tutorial videos by AnatomyZone, available for free on Youtube![3] I kept wondering why such well-developed material was not used or recommended by most college medical school.

As a postgraduate in Community Medicine (2018-2021), I continued to explore how such videos were made, until I discovered that such tutorials could be developed using software such as ” The BioDigital Human” (New York, USA): an interactive tool and exhaustive 3D simulation of the complete anatomy of the human body with academic details of each structure, providing the following main characteristics:[4]

  1. Model handling: 360 degree rotation; zoom in/out on body cavities; add/edit existing tags, descriptions, voiceovers. Therefore, teachers can create custom tutorials to use in class or to share with students.
  2. Layer-by-layer dissection in each plane, providing a near-perfect simulation of human body dissection. Can overcome the problem of inadequate cadavers as each student can dissect each body part independently while watching a few students perform a dissection on a real cadaver.
  3. Isolation of each system (including the nervous, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems) allows detailed study of the course of the different vessels/nerves, muscle attachments and bones
  4. The “Radiology View” option makes it indispensable for the study of radiology and surgery
  5. Also offers working models/simulations of various physiological/biochemical/pathological mechanisms

So, this platform has definite utility for anatomy apart from other subjects as well. He can effectively guide students as they dissect independently, with or without faculty guidance. It can also enhance self-directed learning sessions, allowing for better visualization when students study anatomy from textbooks/atlases.

As a resident physician in community medicine, I have attempted to integrate this technology into routine community/teaching work as follows:

  1. Creation of human reproductive system video tutorials with vernacular labels/descriptions; widely used in community health education sessions (especially for adolescents)
  2. Trained grassroots workers (non-profit sector) to use this platform for health/sex education sessions
  3. Demonstrated utility of BioDigital Human in medical education by creating video tutorials for thyroid anatomy while developing an integrated teaching module for iodine deficiency disorders (Integration between community medicine, medicine, otolaryngology).
  4. Demonstration of the platform in the anatomy department to facilitate its routine use in college; suggested involvement of surgery and radiology departments.

However, during my residency tenure, I have not been able to satisfactorily drive widespread adoption of this exceptional educational platform for routine TL purposes. I have since realized that similar mobile platforms/apps are already in use in some of the “early”/”good” institutes in our country. The COVID pandemic, by moving medical education online, has also undoubtedly made the adaptation of these technologies more widespread.5 However, the use of these platforms has not yet become mandatory for medical education in India. There is a striking dearth of data regarding the exact proportion of medical schools that actually use these platforms and to what extent. Moreover, with the resumption of offline classes, combined with the cynicism of several professors towards “new technologies” and “online learning”, it is more likely than not that thousands of medical students in the faculties Indian medical schools remain deprived of these readily available tools of medical education. Hence, it is imperative to enforce the uniform incorporation of these technologies into routine TLs to improve the minimum standards of medical training across India. Every medical student deserves a decent education whether or not their medical school is a “top institute” because every medical student is going to face lives whether they graduate from a “good” university or nope.

References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262698082
  2. https://njca.info/article.asp?issn=2277-4025
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3S2dD9BrSY&ab_channel=AnatomyZone
  4. https://www.biodigital.com/
  5. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00276-021-02868-6

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