Exploring the Human Interior: The Roles of Cadaver Dissection and Radiologic Imaging in Teaching Anatomy

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For a variety of reasons, new radiological imaging techniques are supplanting traditional cadaver dissection in the teaching of human anatomy. The authors briefly review the historical forces behind this transition, and then explore the advantages and drawbacks of each approach. Cadaver dissection offers an active, hands-on exploration of human structure, provides deep insights into the meaning of human embodiment and mortality, and represents a profound rite of passage into the medical profession. Radiological imaging permits in vivo visualization, offers physiologic as well as anatomic insights, and represents the context in which contemporary practicing physicians most frequently encounter their patients’ otherwise hidden internal anatomy. Despite its important strengths, radiology cannot simply substitute for cadaver dissection, and the best models for teaching gross anatomy will incorporate both cadaver dissection and radiological imaging.

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