The Anatomy & Neurobiology Department Today
The years since 2003 have seen a re-vitalization of the physical facilities in the Department, with major renovations taking place in most of the teaching areas as well as many of the research laboratories. Many of these much-needed renovations were funded with the help of an enrolment-expansion fund in the Faculty of Medicine, obtained as a result of the expansion in the size of the undergraduate medical class. The anatomy morgue in the basement of the Tupper Building, for example, had not been repaired or upgraded since it was built in 1967, and working conditions for Anatomy staff there had become shabby and unsafe over the years.
A number of our faculty members have been very successful in attracting grant funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and from the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) that included substantial monies for infrastructure development, and these funds have been used for extensive renovations of research laboratories in the Department (for example the Cell Restoration Laboratory on the 12th floor as well as a number of individual laboratories on floors 13 and 14).
Our teaching laboratories (Histology, Embryology and Neuroanatomy laboratory space in Room 12K, and our gross anatomy teaching laboratories on the 14th floor) were completely refurbished and expanded and modernized with new flat digital imaging monitors and ‘smart podia’ to allow teachers to use various electronic media to demonstrate dissections and present lectures to the students in these laboratories.
The old Anatomy Museum was relocated to newly-renovated space on the 14th floor to become our new Anatomy Learning Resource Centre. This space houses much of our original collection of anatomical specimens, but also contains many commercially-obtained anatomical models and skeletal material, as well as plastinated anatomical dissections (prosections). This long-lasting plastinated material is produced in our own Department, and is used for teaching purposes and self-learning by students. The Department has instigated a new plastination facility located in the renovated morgue area and we can accommodate specimens as large as a whole torso or entire lower limb. Our technical staff are trained in prosection and plastination techniques, and are active in helping out with teaching in various anatomy courses. There are also computer work stations available for student use, and small meeting tables in the Learning Resource Centre.
Recently, in collaboration with the Department of Pathology and with financial support from the Faculty of Medicine, our Department has commissioned a new ‘Virtual Histology’ facility on the 12th floor of Tupper. Budget cuts over the years have meant that we now have only three full time support staff in the Department to support teaching laboratories, so our histological support laboratory (that produced our teaching microscope slides over the years) is long gone. In an effort to preserve our valuable teaching slide collection, we have digitized the best examples of our microscope slides and these are now available to faculty members and students to study using new computer-based teaching and learning software. This means that students can access these images on their own laptop or desktop computers, study images of the slides, and manipulate them almost as if they were viewing the original slides through a real microscope. They can ‘move around’ the slide and change magnification, and also see annotations made by faculty members that point out important anatomical features within the specimens.
Another innovation that we have recently established in the Anatomy & NeuroscienceDepartment is the introduction of a ‘Surgical Grade Cadaver Programme’ for use by clinical residents and clinical researchers in the Faculty of Medicine, for studying clinical aspects of human gross anatomy. In collaboration with Dr George Kovacs in the Department of Emergency Medicine and other clinical colleagues, we visited the medical school of the University of Baltimore and adapted their new techniques for embalming anatomical specimens in such a way as to preserve more natural colours, textures, and flexibility of bodily tissues. This greatly facilitates the use of this material for teaching surgical methods and other clinical procedures that are not possible with classically embalmed material. We worked closely with Dr. Jaap Bonjer, then Head of the Department of Surgery, to support the new Surgical Skills Centre that he established to help train residents and senior clinicians in modern clinical techniques (e.g. ‘keyhole’ surgery using laparoscopy and other related techniques).
Finally, the Department is currently actively involved with the establishment of the new Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick initiative. It was recognized that an important early piece in the initiation of the new undergraduate medical education programme in New Brunswick was to ensure that the resources available to the new students in Saint John would be exactly equivalent to those on the Halifax campus. Our Human Body Donation Programme in the Department of Medical Neuroscience is one of the biggest in Canada, and one of the most sensitive and complex programmes in Dalhousie University. The new DMNB initiative decided to recruit the first new faculty member for the programme as an anatomist within our Department. Also, the first new staff support member for the project will be a person to support the Anatomy, Microbiology and Pathology teaching laboratory in the new facilities in Saint John.
As of this writing, at the end of 2009, we have 15.5 full time equivalent faculty members in the Department, and eight cross appointees from several clinical departments with the Faculty of Medicine, as well as three cross and adjunct appointments from other faculties within Dalhousie and from the University of PEI and Mount Saint Vincent University. Our support staff complement is now approximately six FTEs (including the new DMNB recruit) and we are responsible for teaching approximately 2000 undergraduate students, mainly from the Faculties of Medicine, Dentistry, Health Professions and Science. We also train 27 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (9 MSc, 10 PhD and 8 pdf) in our own Department, as well as approximately 110 Masters students in the Faculty of Health Professions. Our departmental faculty members were successful in attracting almost $2M ($1.95M) in external research funding for their research laboratories in 2009.
We are proud of our accomplishments since 1868, and look forward, at the start of this new millennium, to new growth and development to support our mission to advance medical knowledge and train new generations of health professionals in the Maritime Provinces.