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UCL & KCL National Anatomy Conference for Undergraduates 2021

Roar writer and Adult Nursing student Dani Jones and third-year medical student Raheem Chaudhry attend the joint UCL & KCL National Anatomy Conference for Undergraduates 2021 and share their thoughts.

Held on Saturday 20th March, the conference was a full-day event which promised a morning of lectures from various people, and an afternoon crammed with workshops.

The conference kicked off promptly at 9 am, with a talk from Professor Standring on “A Short History of Anatomy”. The talk explored how we came to have such a knowledge of anatomy and discussed the pioneers of anatomy research.

The next talk was delivered by Dr Birch, who discussed “The Face of Death”. She explored the world of forensic facial reconstruction and the role anatomy plays in providing accurate facial reconstructions for use in identify bodies or telling us more about how our ancestors lived.

The third talk of the morning was delivered by Professor Kneebone and was on the topic of “The Path to Becoming Expert”. This talk was much more abstract than the previous two talks and discussed how medicine is a craft that takes time to master.

The final talk of the morning session was on “Anatomy and Technology: How Surgical Skills Evolved”. Delivered by Professor Cobb, this talk looked at the role of evolving technology in surgery and patient care. After this talk, we broke up for lunch before the afternoon’s workshops.

The four workshops were “Art and Anatomy”, “Chest X-Ray Interpretation and Discussion”, the “Seldinger technique”, and “Virtual Tangerine Suturing”. Unfortunately, the press tickets did not include suturing packs, so neither Raheem nor Dani could partake, but they were invited to observe.

After the workshops, there was a final talk from an Elsevier representative on “How do we communicate anatomy in the 21st century with digital solutions”. The organisers of the conference then made their closing remarks, and the conference finished at 5 pm.

Dani’s Thoughts

I found the first two talks – The History of Anatomy and The Face of Death – highly engaging. Both speakers were extremely knowledgeable, and displayed a great depth of insight on the topics they chose to discuss. Professor Standring had the insight to acknowledge that she was presenting an extremely Western-centric view of anatomy throughout the ages, while Dr Birch talked about the current limitations of forensic facial reconstruction.

I enjoyed the third talk far less and felt that it had little to do with the topic of this year’s conference. However, the speaker was charming and regaled all of the attendees with several anecdotes from his life.

Much of the final talk went over my head – as a student nurse, I have little experience in surgery. I did, however, appreciate the ever-evolving role of technology in improving patient care, and Professor Cobb had a great breadth and depth of knowledge surrounding the use of technology in knee and hip replacements.

The afternoon began with some technical difficulties, and the workshops started late. When the workshops began, the chest x-ray interpretation talk was informative and I learned a great deal about the types of x-rays I may encounter throughout my healthcare career.

Unfortunately, the press pack tickets did not include a suture kit, so Raheem and I could only observe the tangerine suturing workshop. As such, the workshop failed to hold my attention. Similarly, observing the Seldinger technique was interesting but I struggled to retain any of the information. This is, in part, due to the very nature of Zoom workshops, and also my hands-on preference for learning and short attention span.

Overall, the conference was enjoyable. I did feel as though, despite being open to anyone, it was extremely medical student centred. I felt at times like an intruder like I did not belong in any of the talks or workshops. I did learn a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed the forensic facial reconstruction talk as I have always had an interest in forensics. I look forward to hearing what the topic will be for next year’s conference.

Raheem’s thoughts

The conference began with a series of highly engaging talks by esteemed guests, showcasing the best of London’s medical academics. Topics that were covered throughout the day were far-reaching, including microanatomy, art and resurrectionists.

In particular, Susan Standring, editor-in-chief of Gray’s Anatomy, stood out with her talk on the history of anatomy, with enough self-awareness to acknowledge that the history she was presenting was Western-centric. Despite this, it was an extensive and well-pitched talk, displaying Strandring’s clear command of language. Wendy Birch, the patron of the UCL Anatomy Society, followed with an interesting talk on the “Face of Death” which aroused a passing interest in the grim business of facial reconstruction from skulls. Statements implying the race or ethnicity of a skull could be determined proved uncontroversial with conference-goers, despite the potential for parallels with the abject horror that is phrenology.

Overall, all the speakers were fantastic, holding my attention captive – no mean feat in an online-only Zoom conference.

The poster presentation over the lunch hour proved duller than in-person poster presentations, with the usual presenter enthusiasm lacking in the pre-recorded scripts. This hour showed the importance of being able to see the presenter and for the presentation to occur life, where interaction can occur. The winner, “Is procedural dissection an effective way of learning anatomy for undergraduate medical students? A pilot study” showed students are uniquely suited to undertaking pedagogical research.

As with any Zoom breakout-style workshop, there were technical difficulties. However, they were quickly resolved by the management team without fuss, delaying the start for around half of the attendees by only ten minutes or so. Unfortunately, online sessions proved relatively useless in comparison with in-person workshops, but with the pandemic restrictions still in full effect, there was no alternative. Sessions on stitching, tube insertion using the Seldinger technique and anatomical art would have been excellent in person but fell short over zoom. All the workshops were clearly tailored to medical students, limiting opportunities for allied health professionals, anatomists, and biomedical scientists.

Overall, this was an excellent conference, if hampered by the limitations of virtual interactions. Guest speakers were distinguished and intellectually stimulating; workshops interesting with real-life applications. The spirit of collaboration in producing this conference must be applauded and has much potential for the future.

Raheem Chaudrhy



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