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Dr. Callum Ross, President of the AGA
April 25, 2012

“Everything that happens to a human, every disease process, happens to a piece of anatomy.” Dr. Callum Ross, Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, sees anatomy and structure as the basic units of understanding. “It’s all anatomy.”

Dr. Ross directs the human anatomy course at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, but his training as an evolutionary biologist fuels his interests in the biomechanics of feeding and the structures and functions of all animals from alligators to fossilized hominids.

Teaching anatomy to medical students allows him to explain the same processes in an array of animals and to compare similar structures in various mammals and reptiles. As a result, medical students have the advantage of seeing human anatomy from the widest perspective. “They can see how things are connected.”

“Small group teaching around the dissecting table is really the most productive. I could take this calculator apart and learn something. But if I had someone showing me how it’s put together and why it functions the way it does, I’d really learn something more.”

For Dr. Ross, anatomy class is a crucial experience for students. “Clearly it’s a transformative experience. They have to confront death. Dissection is the first step on that road. They learn about themselves and each other and how they react in stressful situations. Personal transformation is a lot of what students take away from this class.”

In considering whether the study of the body will be supplanted by computer simulations or anatomical atlases, Dr. Ross is quite clear that dissection will always be a central part of medical education. “I think if you ask someone on the street whether they would want a doctor who had never dissected, the answer would be ‘no.’ I think not.”

He sees anatomy as part of human experience, “There is a public interest in anatomy, a fascination about the body. Everybody has one. It’s that fascination that museum displays like Body World take advantage of. I have no problem with people learning about anatomy as long as it’s done professionally. Anatomy is part and parcel of human biology.”

Dr. Ross brings to his anatomy classes the breadth of understanding of animals and all their intricacies. As they dissect, his medical students have the benefit of his expansive knowledge of biology and anatomic structures. They come to see the human body as unique but within the continuity of all life.

 

 

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