Cut cows, not class

Posted on April 23, 2009 by

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Kayla Evans- Staff Writer

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On Wednesday morning, medical anatomy students cut into their most recent project: cow hearts. The project is a hands-on operation and dissection process in which students perform open heart bypass surgery on cow hearts to learn about the inner workings of the heart.

“We’re learning about parts of the heart and blood flow,” Ben Clark (12) said.

Though student reactions to the lab vary, many are at least a little apprehensive about the process in the very beginning.

“You have to poke your finger right down into the aorta…so you get this [squeamish] reaction,” Jim Routhier (science teacher) said.

Other students are not afraid to touch the hearts at all.

“I just like handling it,” Clark said.

Clark was surprised to find out how drastically the real-life hearts differ significantly from illustrations in the book.

“My initial reaction was ‘man, this is a fatty heart.’ The pictures don’t really show that,” he said.

As the lab progresses though, many students warm up to the experiment and can continue without the initial uneasiness.

“After about twenty minutes they’re okay,” Routhier said.

The project does not just teach the students about anatomy. It emphasizes the skills and precision involved in any sort of surgery.

“They’re finding out that it’s more difficult then they thought. Doctors make doing [the bypass surgery] look easy, but it’s really difficult and requires a lot of skill,” Routhier said.

That required skill proved to be particularly difficult for some.

“The hardest part by far is working with the small thread and trying to tie tiny knots with big hands,” Clark said.

Though students continue to learn about the heart via their textbooks, Routhier believes the dissection experience in an important one in learning the process and emphasizing the concepts learned in the book.

“It really helps reinforce [the concept],” Routhier said.

Clark also agrees that the hands-on approach is a good way to stress the concepts that they are learning.

“It puts a visual context to something that is more conceptual,” he said.

The applied style of learning really helps students understand the material and promotes a deeper level of education when it comes to the medical material.

“The heart is something really hard to visualize,” Routhier said. “A lot of people think it is hollow, but that’s not the case. There are all kinds of little [parts] inside.”

For Routhier, it is exciting to see the students learn about the heart in a way that actively engages them.

“It’s really enlightening when they see what’s going on,” he said.

While many students take the class out of interest, Clark see the opportunity as a good vocational indicator.

“I’m thinking about entering the medical field, so it’s a good way to confirm whether or not that’s what I actually want to do.”

The students will continue their investigation and wrap up their examinations during classes today.

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