The Long and Short of It: Unopposed Basic Science Instruction over Fewer Weeks Improves Student Written Exam Performance in Medical Gross Anatomy Academic Article uri icon


  • Introduction Medical schools differ in their curricular strategies for teaching medical gross anatomy (MGA). One fundamental decision in designing a first-year medical curriculum is whether to teach MGA concurrently with other basic sciences over a longer period of time, or unopposed over a shorter period. Methods We assessed the impact of a change in our first-year medical curriculum on student exam performance by comparing two student cohorts. For the academic year (AY) 2017 cohort (N = 165?169), MGA was taught over 18 weeks, during which time students also took Foundations of Medicine (FOM)-I (integrated histology and physiology during weeks 1?10) and FOM-II (biochemistry/basic pharmacology/genetics during weeks 11?18). Based on consistent student feedback regarding the challenge of simultaneously learning biochemistry and head/neck anatomy, the curriculum was changed for the AY2018 cohort (N = 131?135). The first 9 weeks were nearly identical for both cohorts, with FOM-I taught concurrently, but the last two exam units of MGA were taught unopposed over 4 weeks, followed by the FOM-II course over another 4 weeks. We compared written exam scores between cohorts to determine if the curricular change significantly affected student performance. Results For the three FOM-I exams, the AY2018 cohort did not score significantly higher than the AY2017 cohort (dfs = 299?302). For the first two MGA exams, the cohorts did not differ significantly (dfs = 300 and 301, ps > 0.05 for both t-tests). For the last two MGA exams, the AY2018 cohort performed significantly better than the AY2017 cohort, with mean scores 7.2% higher (df = 299, p < 0.00001) and 9.1% higher (df = 294, p < 0.00001), respectively. Preliminary student course evaluations for MGA (n=110 of 131 students) indicate continued high ratings for the course overall but ambivalence about compressing the last two exam units into only 4 weeks. The most frequent student recommendation was a re-distribution of course topics in the middle exams. Exam scores and course evaluations for FOM-II will be similarly compared between the two cohorts when they become available. Discussion Whether improved MGA exam performance translates into better knowledge retention is as-yet unknown and difficult to directly assess. However, these preliminary results indicate that students perform significantly better in the last half of the MGA course when it is taught unopposed over a condensed timeline. This could be due to more study time dedicated to MGA or to more effective studying due to reduced task-switching by students. Whether we would expect similar improvement if the entire course was taught unopposed will be discussed. Additional explanations based on student feedback will be explored. Support or Funding Information This study of human subjects was approved by the Texas A&M University Institutional Review Board. This abstract is from the Experimental Biology 2019 Meeting. There is no full text article associated with this abstract published in The FASEB Journal.

published proceedings

  • The FASEB Journal

author list (cited authors)

  • Brakora, K. A., Chico, D. E., Allen, G. C., Hubbard, J. K., & Chen, W.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Brakora, Katherine A||Chico, Diane E||Allen, Gregg C||Hubbard, John K||Chen, Wei‐Jung

publication date

  • April 2019