Teaching and Learning Moments
Once again, I’ve learned something from my students. I serve as the instructor-in-charge of the Senior Necropsy Rotation at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. During this two-week capstone experience of the pathology curriculum in the senior year, the students learn how to perform necropsies (autopsies of animals) and write summary reports.
Upon completion of a necropsy, the students return to the conference room to compare notes and generate the necropsy report containing descriptions and interpretations of all gross findings. Often, students work in teams to collect this information, with one student in charge of assimilating the data. Typically, this student completes the report on a computer while the other students provide written notes or verbal descriptions.
The gross pathology seminar room is equipped with an overhead projection system for displaying lesions in group discussions. On a recent afternoon, I accidentally left this system on after using it for a prenecropsy discussion of a case. After completing that day’s necropsy, I found the group of students seated around the conference table, avidly watching the projected image of the necropsy report as their classmate typed it. For each lesion, the students actively debated the accuracy of the description, suggesting better word choices and contributing measurement data. I listened, fascinated, as the students self-edited their report until the entire group agreed on a final product. In the past, I’ve prodded and cajoled students to provide a full description of lesions, which usually resulted in my rewriting the report while a single student fidgeted impatiently in my office. Now, with the capability for all students to watch and contribute to the completion of the report, the group could take more responsibility for the content and accuracy of the report.
However, I noted that they were still jumping to interpretations rather than describing some of the lesions according to the assignment. I reminded them of the distinction between lesion description and lesion interpretation, which was particularly relevant at this moment, as we had only just collected tissues for histopathology and would not be able to confirm the lesions for at least 24 hours. Suddenly, thanks to the ability to visualize and provide feedback for report generation, the students had a valid reason to avoid overinterpretations, and each student became accountable for preparing an accurate report.
During the remainder of the two-week rotation, the students became increasingly aware of using correct terminology in reports and paid closer attention to lesion observation during the necropsy. They were also less likely to overinterpret lesions than were other groups. The quality of the students’ reports improved more rapidly in this rotation than that of any group I have encountered in ten years of teaching, with less talking on my part. This postnecropsy discussion of the case promotes whole-group participation via visual and auditory input. This, in turn, leads to expanded opportunities for students to critique terminology and verify accuracy of descriptions. While this responsibility makes the rotation more challenging, it may also provide a more realistic view of the role of pathologists in clinical medicine.
Amanda Fales-Williams, DVM, PhD, Dipl., ACVP