Will gross anatomy soon be rendered irrelevant?

Dissecting a human body is messy, smelly, and expensive.

In fact, more medical schools are resorting to so-called “virtual” gross anatomy, using sophisticated imaging and computer programs.

This is a mistake, says psychiatry resident Christine Montross, in a NY Times op-ed. And she has a point.

“Someday, [doctors] need to keep their cool when a baby is lodged wrong in a mother’s birth canal; when a bone breaks through a patient’s skin; when someone’s face is burned beyond recognition,” writes Dr. Montross. “Doctors do have normal reactions to these situations; the composure that we strive to keep under stressful circumstances is not innate. It has to be learned.”

Such talk about replacing real bodies with virtual ones continues the depersonalization trend in medicine. Already, today’s doctors rarely do thorough physical exams, instead relying on diagnostic tests and imaging studies. After all, why spend the time listening to a patient’s heart for a murmur, when an echocardiogram can simply be ordered?

Using computerized body replicas distances medical students from the human element in medicine, and indeed, “the dissection of cadavers . . . gives young doctors an appreciation for the wonders of the human body in a way that no virtual image can match.”

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