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Folia Morphol (Warsz). 2017 Mar 1. doi: 10.5603/FM.a2017.0019. [Epub ahead of print]

Reflective Journals: Unmasking student perceptions of anatomical education.

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Department of Clinical Anatomy University of KwaZulu Natal Private Bag X54001 Durban 4000 South Africa.


In medical education, reflection has been considered to be a core skill in professional competence. The anatomy laboratory is an ideal setting for faculty/student interaction and provides invaluable opportunities for active learning and reflection on anatomical knowledge. This study was designed to record student attitudes regarding human cadaveric dissection, explore their experiences of anatomy through an analysis of their journal-reflective writings and determine whether this type of creative writing had a beneficial effect on those students who chose to complete them. A total of seventy-five journals from Medical and Allied Health Science students were collected and analysed. Results were categorized according to the following themes: (i) Dissecting room stressors (27.6%); (ii) Educational value of dissection (26.3%); (iii) Appreciation, Gratitude, Respect & Curiosity for the cadaver (18.9%); (iv) Positive and negative sentiments expressed in the dissecting room (25.8%); (v) Benefit of alternate teaching modalities (4.6%); (vi) Spirituality/Religious Beliefs (3.7%); (vii) Shared humanity and emotional bonds (3.69%); (viii) Acknowledgement of human anatomical variations (3.2%); (ix) Beauty and complexity of the human body (1.8%) and (x) Psychological detachment (0.9%). Students appreciated the opportunity to share their emotions and reflect on the humanistic dimension of anatomy as a subject. Student reflections illustrated clearly their thoughts and some of the difficult issues with which they wrestled.. The anatomy laboratory is seen as the budding clinician's first encounter with a patient, albeit a cadaver. This was the first time that reflective journals were given to students in the discipline. Reflective journals allow students to express themselves in an open-ended and creative fashion. It also assists students to integrate anatomy and clinical medicine and assists in applying their basic anatomical knowledge in an authentic, yet safe environment.


anatomy; cadaveric dissection; journal writing; medical education; reflection

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