Students give up summer vacation to get head start on anatomy

8/13/2015, 10:52 a.m.
While most medical students take the summer off to work, travel or just recuperate, there were still more than a ...
Dr. Sushama Rich is the professor who launched the summer program when she realized colleges were not preparing students well for fall anatomy. She has seen enrollment thrive.

While most medical students take the summer off to work, travel or just recuperate, there were still more than a few students left at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem.

A four-week anatomy course offered at TouroCOM drew medical students from Touro and other medical schools, and allowed them a sneak preview of a fundamental part of the curriculum they will be learning for credit in the fall, human anatomy.

The summer course was developed by Dr. Sushama Rich, chair of the Department of Anatomy, in 2011, after she realized that college wasn’t preparing first-year students for the medical terminology and level of detail that they were expected to learn in the fall course, which can make or break their GPAs.

“I was shocked. It was like I was speaking a foreign language to them,” she said.

Since the summer course was first developed, enrollment has grown from 30 to 80 students, and Rich has seen improvement in students’ understanding of the material and work ethic in the fall. “Even if they don’t improve their grades, they’re much more relaxed and they have more time for other classes, so they’re able to manage their time better,” she explained.

The summer anatomy seminar might seem like any normal anatomy class. Nearly 80 students take copious notes while a professor stands at the front with a PowerPoint presentation and a model skeleton. Rich explained, however, that this class was not a typical anatomy course.

“Classes run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., four days a week, with all of the material that is taught in the fall thrown at the students in a month. It really allows students to dive into the information and prepare to take the credited course in the fall,” she said, adding that come fall, anatomy students who took the summer course typically tell her the very first week how they’ve heard the material before whereas others who didn’t take the summer course are struggling.

Ari Esterson, an incoming master’s student at TouroCOM, said he enrolled in the summer course to review his anatomy knowledge and because the course “gives you a leg up.” Although the class was fun, it was also challenging because it condenses a lot of material into a short period of time.

Rich said the course makes students’ lives easier and “jolts them into medical school.” It also teaches them about time management and commitment, she noted.

In addition to entering TouroCOM students, there were students from Columbia Physicians and Surgeons and Wayne State University School of Medicine who are in pursuit of an M.D. degree.

Although an eight-hour class might sound overwhelming, it was broken up into two parts. Mornings were devoted to lectures, usually delivered by Rich. After lunch students were divided into three groups: one examined dissected cadavers and studied the bones and muscles; another reviewed the previous lecture with a teaching assistant; and the third group had question and answer sessions and discussed their answers in-depth.

Afternoons were favorites. “I liked the reviews because we got a chance to talk with people and learn from their experience and get good advice from them, too,” said Ange Mele.