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