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Indiana’s two medical schools foster partnership through anatomy education


INDIANAPOLIS — Two schools of thought on medical practice involving the state’s newest medical school — Marian University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine — and the state’s oldest at Indiana University School of Medicine are converging in the classroom, enhancing anatomical education and sharing philosophies to broaden opportunities for students and their future patients.

“Allopathic and osteopathic medical schools do not have a history of close collaboration, often viewing each other more as potential competitors than partners,” said James J. Brokaw, Ph.D., MPH, director of the IU Center for Anatomical Sciences Education. “That’s why the collaboration with the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine is so unique. It offers an extraordinary opportunity to share best educational practices and conduct joint educational research to the benefit of both schools.”

For the past 113 years, the IU School of Medicine anatomy faculty have taught gross anatomy as an introductory course to first-year allopathic medical students. In an earlier era, the chance to participate in human dissection was viewed as a privilege reserved primarily for doctors and dentists. But recent decades have witnessed a rapid growth in other health professions such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant programs — all requiring proper training in gross anatomy. And this interest in anatomy extends to colleges and even high schools where students aspire to enter the health professions.

With this increasing demand for gross anatomy instruction, the IU School of Medicine Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology saw an opportunity to do one of the things it does best: teach gross anatomy and the related disciplines of neuroanatomy and histology. The IU Center for Anatomical Sciences Education, or IU-CASE, was formed in 2012 to expand the department’s ability to provide anatomy instruction in high schools, colleges, health professions and post-graduate degree courses.

“IU-CASE is a logical extension of the services the IU School of Medicine anatomy department already offers,” said Kathryn J. Jones, Ph.D., professor and chair of the IU Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. “The purpose is to extend the teaching of anatomical sciences beyond the traditional medical school domain and provide our departmental skills to high school classes, other health science professions, continuing medical education classes and additional professional training programs in areas such as anthropology and biomedical engineering.”

The timing for the formation of IU-CASE is fortuitous for the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, which welcomed its first entering class in August 2013.  

During the fall semester, Marian University medical students typically worked 2 1/2 hours a day, three days a week between mid-August and early December in a gross anatomy lab. On those days, IU-CASE provided teaching assistants from the IU School of Medicine to assist the four Marian University faculty members who teach gross anatomy to 162 first-year students.

The IU teaching assistants are postdoctoral fellow Melissa Haulcomb, Ph.D.; anatomy graduate students Rena Meadows and Leslie Hoffman, who are in their final year of the Ph.D. program; and Courtney Traser, a first-year anatomy Ph.D. student

They worked under the guidance of Tafline Arbor, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and gross anatomy course director at Marian University, and the other three members of her team, Allison Chatterjee, Ph.D., David Dufeau, Ph.D., and Blaine Maley, Ph.D.

Dr. Arbor sees the collaboration as a win-win for Marian and the IU School of Medicine, and the Hoosiers who will be treated by their graduates.   

“The main difference between allopathic and osteopathic medical education is osteopathic medicine’s  stronger emphasis on anatomical knowledge and holistic health,” Dr. Arbor said. “Having IU School of Medicine-trained anatomy instructors working with Marian University students and instructors brings another viewpoint to the classroom. This collaboration exposes the IU doctoral students to a different philosophy and technological environment for teaching anatomy and expands the Marian University students’ training.”

“The IU School of Medicine will soon inaugurate a new integrated curriculum, not unlike the curriculum now in place at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine,” said Dr. Brokaw, who also serves as the associate dean for admissions at the IU School of Medicine. “By helping to teach their anatomy courses, we can learn valuable lessons that may benefit our own curricular change process.”            

The IU Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology is in a unique position to expand opportunities for anatomical education in Indiana and beyond, Dr. Jones said. For one thing, IU teaches gross anatomy at its nine medical education centers and therefore has a large number of highly trained anatomy educators.

The department also offers the nation’s only education-focused doctoral program for individuals seeking careers in anatomical teaching and medical education research. 

Hoffman, who is scheduled to receive her Ph.D. in anatomy and cell biology in the spring, was one of the four teaching assistants at Marian University. Her career goal is to join the faculty at a medical school to teach gross anatomy, so she jumped at the chance to be part of IU-CASE at Marian University.

“It is a good opportunity to get a little more teaching experience and in a different environment because all schools teach anatomy a little differently,” she said. “The best part was being able to interact with more students and with other anatomists. They have a beautiful lab, and it is more modern than the gross anatomy lab at IU.”

At Marian University’s newly opened Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences, each gross anatomy dissection table has a built-in computer screen and access to virtual textbooks and images supplemented with an online library, all very state-of-the-art, Hoffman said.

“The blending of disciplines will only make the education experience stronger,” said  Paul Evans, D.O., vice president and dean of the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Education does not occur in a vacuum, and sharing our medical philosophies can only improve the quality of care our students and the IU medical school students will be able to offer their patients.”

“We hope to build upon this collaboration and work together to expand the teaching of anatomical sciences to medical and osteopathic students and conduct educational research,” Dr. Jones said. “The anatomy faculty at Marian University hold adjunct appointments in our department, which we hope will foster greater ties between the two schools and encourage future collaborations.”

IU-CASE and Marian University will continue this collaboration next semester when they joint-teach an integrated neuroscience course for the osteopathic students.