What I learned about tutoring anatomy by watching TV
Although I do not own a TV (and have not for pretty much all of my adult life), I occasionally allow myself to partake in mind numbing and will watch past episodes of a show via Netflix. It would not have occurred to me I could learn something helpful about
studying and yet I did!
Although I did not realize it at the time, Bones (cerebral/quirky weekly drama about a forensic anthropologist played by Emily Deshanel) and later Grey's Anatomy (medical drama with some elements of non-fiction starring Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh), subtly helped me understand how to become a better connoisseur of studying anatomy and physiology. It was not until recently, while working with a pre-nursing school student, I put the pieces together.
Anyone who works with the body (living or dead) must create their own 'GPS' system for navigating the body as no two are exactly alike. Each bone, muscle, system and tissue (sometimes even cells) are just slightly different. There is a range of normal and then there is everything else. While anatomy is memorization for the most part, the Latin names of parts are actually signage and direct you along the way to finding the proper places you were seeking.
An example is when Bones (the doctor) is looking at some decomposed sample of detritus and having to sort out where in the body it is from and what it might be... While the TV show may be disturbing in its use of metaphor, we, the audience begin to understand the reconstruction of the crime scene based on evidence. In Grey's Anatomy, when Derek (neurologist) is looking at some ones brain, he is following landmarks which should indicate particular structures. Sometimes the normal structures are deformed due to injury, cancer, an abundance of blood and goo. In any case, it is the person's ability to identify significant structures which helps them do their job.
This ability to shift between the GPS landmarks of normal and reality help students become outstanding practitioners of medicine. People in medicine would not do well if they could not differentiate normal and apply it to that which is broken. As I slowly absorbed this meaning, I realized how the monotony of studying anatomy could be broken up by using the perfect conditions of drawings (thank you Leonardo Da Vinci), pictures, models and cadavers with elements of injury and deformity.
I looked up x-ray pictures where there was a damaged structure (ex: a broken bone) and had a student begin to navigate the image with me based on what we know from the book. We had to look for and use landmarks. When we got lost, we had to rotate the structure in space and begin to imagine where the pieces should go together in the perfect world of normal. This exercise was not only more interesting in learning about bones, it was more practical.
It would indeed be a rare day when a some one comes in with all the pieces in order - they would not be a patient. I have begun to look at pictures of damage to use along side the perfect and normal to help my students make better use of visual landmarks.