Anatomy of the physical examination: A small group learning approach for increasing engagement and learning in a medical gross anatomy course
The ability to perform and interpret the physical examination requires an understanding of human anatomy and how to apply that content in the clinical setting. Previous work has shown that students understand and retain information more effectively when they are actively engaged in the learning process and it is clearly linked to other coursework and their future needs. We developed a series of learning activities, based on the general physical examination, designed to enhance engagement and encourage durable learning of anatomical principles that are important in performing and interpreting the physical examination. Activities were designed for use in small group settings with faculty supervision and input as needed. We describe these activities and provide comments from students regarding the perceived value of these learning activities. Students reported that the applied anatomy learning activities were engaging and aided in their learning of human anatomy. Additionally, students appreciated the connection between the applied anatomy activities and the skills being learned in concurrent coursework focusing on the physical examination. We observed that applied human anatomy exercises modeled after components of the general physical examination and embedded in an anatomy course enhanced student engagement and helped students appreciate the importance of anatomical principles. We note that sensitivity to and acceptance of personal preferences and religious matters must be shown when using learning activities that involve close physical interactions to teach anatomical topics.