Brock Biomedical Sciences student Felicia Bouaban remembers the first time she came face-to-face with the loop of Henle, something not many people get the chance to see.
The then-second year student was trying to understand the mechanics of the complicated structure in the kidney that filters and reabsorbs water and sodium chloride.
“I had a question, but I thought it was silly, and I was too afraid to ask the teaching assistant because I wanted to avoid sounding stupid,” says Bouaban.
Luckily, a fourth-year student volunteer in a program called the Human Anatomy Team was in the lab and able to lend a hand.
“I asked the volunteer my question,” she recalls. “He was super nice; I felt comfortable asking someone who was a bit closer to my education level.”
Two years later, Bouaban is now a volunteer in the program.
Inspired by the need to adapt creative teaching methods during pandemic restrictions, the Human Anatomy Team program involves a variety of innovations that allow for experiential and interactive learning to take place in anatomy courses.
A big part of the program, which received a Chancellors Chair for Teaching and Excellence award in 2021, involves volunteers who bridge the gap between in-class lectures and hands-on experience in the lab, especially for those who are just starting out in their education.
Martin Dragan, Anatomy Lab Supervisor in the Department of Health Sciences, co-manages the program’s volunteer portion and is the first point of contact for most volunteers.
“We have different types of peer supports,” he says. “The frontline volunteers work one-on-one with students or within groups in the lab, while the senior volunteers make sure that the frontline students have everything set up if they’re going to do practice quizzes or if they need extra information.”
Bouaban works mostly in the cadaver lab. She helps students examine organs such as hearts, kidneys and stomachs, as well as how they’re situated in the cardiovascular, digestive and other systems using bodies donated to science and plastic models.
“I present the highlights of each unit so that students know what to pay attention to in lab and written exams,” says Bouaban. “I also provide general study tips and answer any questions they have on the subject.”
One of the program’s early volunteers, Nicolas Wilson (BSc ’23), turned his experience into a thesis to complete the fourth year of his Medical Sciences undergraduate degree.
His study showed peer leaders can boost students’ understanding of the material taught and “can actually help students feel more prepared for completing course-based assessments,” says Wilson, who is now a lab demonstrator in the Systems Anatomy (HLSC 2P95) undergraduate course.
“The success has to do with a feeling of closeness,” he says. “There isn’t that element of seniority or authority, so there’s a closer connection between the volunteers and students, who can relate to each other easily.”
Wilson’s thesis forms the basis of a paper co-written with Dragan, Associate Professor of Health Sciences Rebecca MacPherson, Associate Professor of Kinesiology Shawn Beaudette, and Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Instructor and Senior Lab Demonstrator Parker Holman.
The team has submitted their paper to the journal Anatomical Sciences Education (Research Report).
In addition to the peer volunteer component, the team’s Human Anatomy Team program includes a variety of experiential learning opportunities such as video demonstrations, use of the Anotomage 3D Virtual Dissection Table and the use of 3D modelling software that allows students to virtually manipulate and dissect specimens.