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Spring 2014
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Anatomy Lesson
Ever wonder what anatomy class is like today?
As long as there has been a medical school at Brown, there have been great anatomy teachers. Members of the first graduating class in 1975 still recall—and use—the lessons taught by George Erikson. In more recent years, one student was so moved by Ted Goslow’s anatomy class she wrote a memoir about the experience.

These days students find inspiration in morphology course director Dale Ritter. Survey medical students who’ve completed his course and they’ll say things like “Dale’s my favorite professor so far” and the highest compliment a 20-something can give: “Dale’s a rock star.”

Affable and easy going, Ritter shrugs off the praise. The course, he says, is team taught, and it’s the dedicated colleagues that he works with who make it all come together. But his earnest respect for his students and genuine interest in their learning clearly have something to do with his popularity.

The Evolution of Anatomy
“When I was an undergraduate I started thinking about teaching at the college level, so I went to grad school,” Ritter says with a hint of an Alabama twang. After completing a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University, he came to Brown’s PhD program in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Ritter was interested in working on animal locomotion. As all graduate students in the department do, he took the gross anatomy course in his first year and then taught it as an assistant while finishing his PhD.

Postdoc work at SUNY-Stony Brook came next, and then Ritter landed a teaching position at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. It wasn’t the best fit.

“When I was in Ohio, I took a job at the community hospital as a patient care tech in the emergency department … I’d take vitals, move people to x-ray. What I found was that I liked the team environment, working with the docs and the nurses. I found it fulfilling,” he says. “I realized that in a small biology department, I felt isolated. Some people really like that, but I found that it wasn’t my thing.”

Shortly after that Brown was searching for a course director to replace the retiring Ted Goslow. Goslow had dramatically changed the teaching of anatomy for the Medical School. While Erikson was a traditional anatomist who built an amphitheatre where students would sit on oak stools spring loaded so they could lean forward and watch prosections on the floor below, Goslow opened the course to student participation. Quite
literally, in fact: he allowed students to have the security code to the lab’s door so that they could work on their dissections any time they wanted to.

“Ted started bringing in clinicians to make anatomy more immediately relevant to the [students’] practice of medicine,” Ritter says. “He worked really hard and changed the anatomy course.”

In the new model, a course director oversees all aspects of the course, and has no faculty research responsibilities—no grants to write, no papers to publish. The focus is on teaching, crafting the syllabus, and coordinating a large cast of co-teachers and guest speakers. For Ritter, it was a dream job.
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