Western Carolina University – Faculty Use Dissection to Improve Anatomy Teaching and Collaboration

By Tom Lotshaw

Physical therapy professor Doug Keskula (right) and associate professor of speech therapy Leigh Odom traveled from WCU to Canada this summer for a dissection workshop to explore human anatomy together.

It wasn’t the usual academic partnership when physical therapy professor Doug Keskula and associate professor of speech-language pathology Leigh Odom traveled from Western Carolina University to Canada this summer for a dissection workshop to explore the human anatomy.

The five-day dissection at McGill University in Montreal included expert guidance from faculty member Gabriel Venne, an osteopath and associate professor of anatomical sciences.

As the dissection progressed, Keskula and Odom explored the anatomy of the head and neck and found themselves noticing different things about the structures they encountered. They shared these differences in understanding about what various anatomical structures can mean for patient injuries, impairments, and recoveries in their fields – and for teaching students in their classrooms.

“We looked at the same regions from a different angle in terms of anatomy and function,” Keskula said. “The emphasis in physiotherapy was more on the muscular, nervous and circulatory systems related to movement, function and posture. The focus was more on the pharynx and larynx and on the smaller, subtle functions of voice and swallowing.

This sharing of insights is exactly what Keskula, who organized her participation in the dissection workshop, had hoped for: an interdisciplinary opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of anatomy for better interprofessional collaboration and better instruction of students at the College of Health and Health. Humanities at WCU.

This was Keskula’s third dissection with Venne. McGill University offers a renowned human dissection program that supports educators and clinicians around the world. “They’ve been a tremendous resource and a pleasure to work with,” Keskula said.

venne keskula odom

Gabriel Venne, Doug Keskula and Leigh Odom.

The dissection focused specifically on the head and neck. They are body parts commonly involved in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and dysfunctions in the fields of physiotherapy and speech therapy.

“For me personally, of all the courses I’ve taken, anatomy is probably still the most meaningful,” said Keskula, a professor, physical therapist, athletic trainer and former dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at the WCU. “That’s why I feel so lucky to teach anatomy. It’s such an essential part of health science education. If you survey our students, many will say this is one of the most important courses.

Anatomy is also a foundational topic for speech therapy, Odom said. The growing field serves patients of all ages and is not limited to helping children overcome their difficulties with articulation and pronunciation.

“We work on voice disorders, speech disorders, swallowing disorders, communication disorders. We work with patients who have oral cancers, cleft palate, traumatic brain injury,” Odom said. “What causes a disorder will very often come down to what anatomical structures are hurting and why.”

Keskula and Odom said the dissection workshop enhanced their understanding of human anatomy and how various medical professionals put anatomical knowledge to good use in clinical settings and classrooms.

“When I go back to the classroom, to teach anatomy or different underlying pathologies or treatments and issues, this dissection is really going to help me shape my curriculum better,” said Odom, who is chair of the Department of Science and Disorders. communication. “Seeing firsthand the interconnectedness of all these anatomical structures will help me revamp the way I approach things and communicate with students.”

Keskula said working with Venne and Odom has enhanced her understanding of the complexities and clinical relevance of head and neck anatomy. “This experience has also broadened our dissection skills, which will allow us to better access these important anatomical structures and present them to our students,” he said.

Keskula and Odom now plan to work with other faculty and programs in the College of Health and Human Sciences to foster collaboration and provide students with more effective and clinically relevant anatomy education.

Venne said that’s the kind of collaboration McGill University wants to facilitate with its clinical dissection program, launched in 2017. The program relies on people giving their bodies to science. Advanced embalming techniques are used to provide the most realistic tissue currently possible and dissection similar to what a surgeon experiences during an operation.

“Healthcare professionals and academics looking at the same organisms from different perspectives and discussing how they can apply this knowledge to their daily practice is beneficial for patients, but also for students,” Venne said. “That’s what we want, to generate impactful moments, that’s also what these donors want.”

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