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DrEAMs play a role in important anatomy lesson

First- and second-year students took advantage of a great opportunity to learn more about a challenging anatomy problem when they participated in the first ever Dermatome Day at the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry – Windsor Campus.

The goal of the Day was to engage students in an interactive and engaging way with the anatomical concept of dermatomes - an often challenging concept to understand and comprehend with 2D images.

Dermatomes are regions of the skin whose sensory innervation can be traced back to a single spinal nerve. Often dermatomes are depicted as colourful mosaic maps on the surface of two-dimensional illustrations in medical textbooks. The contours and surfaces of the skin however are far from two dimensional, and these dermatomes have complex shapes which wrap around the limbs and body in ways that can be difficult to understand perceptually from illustrations alone.

Using Dry-Erase Anatomy Mannequins (DrEAMs) – students were able to better understand this challenging issue.

Following a short presentation on the concept of dermatomes and sensory nerves, students were tasked with drawing out those 2D representations onto the 3D surfaces of the DrEAM. After each group had completed their assigned arms, legs and torsos, the mannequins were reassembled and the interconnection between dermatomes that cross the boundaries between limbs were lined up and clearly visualized.

Throughout the entire session, students were engaged with the teaching tools, collaborating with each other, taking on a diversity of different roles in the process of mapping the dermatomes, and teaching each other to reinforce and clarify the various concepts.

The clinical application of dermatomes was emphasized to students, and using the American Spinal Injury Associations International Standards materials, laid out the need-to-know testing points that they will most likely be expected to know in practice. The students found the session enjoyable, informative and applicable.

According to Anna Farias and Arjun Maini, the organizers of the session, students enjoyed using the DrEAMS due to their combined novelty and utility in tackling this staple piece of clinical knowledge.

The overall session was informal, allowing students the freedom to make mistakes and discuss the concepts and just how confusing and challenging they are. Using the DrEAM tool, students were able to translate perceptually challenging surface anatomy using a modality that is better suited to understanding 3D concepts. They could easily erase lines and labels and correct their mistakes in a way that other formats such as body painting, and even colouring books might preclude.

The Day was presented as pilot for the Anatomy Club Series. And based on the students’ enthusiasm and feedback from Dermatome Day, plans are already being discussed to have an identical session in the future for students who were unable to attend this latest iteration.

Ultimately, the team hopes to disseminate the development of this learning tool and showcase its various uses to benefit the medical education community at large. As they develop increased familiarity with the tool and how students extract benefit from it, they would like to eventually carry out an objective assessment of its efficacy as a learning tool through a rigorous implementation of the DrEAM System in an educational research context.