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Nottingham Castle

An Anatomist in Notts

25 February 22 illustrations: Kasia Kozakiewicz

You know the drill. We find a Notts resident with a weird or unusual job and get them to give us the lowdown on what it’s really like. This month, we hear from an anatomist...

I always absolutely loved anatomy, and knowing pathology makes it even more interesting because you can see how the body can go wrong in terms of its structure, and how this leads to disease. My first degree was in Anatomy, and I then went on to do a further study which specialised in pathology. I became an expert in using a microscope to understand normal body function and how it is disrupted in disease. 

My role now involves leading anatomy teaching to medical students; they use anatomy teaching to understand how the body works in health and disease. The students are the thing I most enjoy about my job – they’re great, and we learn so much from each other. My job enables me to learn something new every single day. People think pathology means autopsy or ‘silent witness’ type forensic investigations. But actually, pathology is the study of disease, so diagnosing (from biopsies) and understanding what causes disease (and therefore how best to treat it) is very much associated with the living. 

There is a lot of variety in my job - no two days are the same and I love it that way. But on a ‘typical’ day, I start by checking in with my technical and admin teams. They are the key to the smooth running of our facility. It’s quite a high-tech environment, like a very large operating theatre, and it is very highly regulated (by the Human Tissue Authority). The high level of regulation means that there is a lot of responsibility to ensure compliance. I really enjoy this aspect of the job. Our students are very lucky to be able to learn anatomy using real human bodies because of the generous and selfless bequest of our registered donors for medical education. Today I have been preparing teaching sessions about blood vessels and vascular disease. I enjoy being creative about how to teach difficult concepts to students easily. It can be like learning a new language, so I try to make things as simple as possible. I use food analogies a lot!

We helped the surgeons by allowing them to use our skulls to develop and practice a COVID-safe procedure. It felt really good to do something concrete at that time

In my academic team, we have been devising new ways of making 3D online models for students to interact with – these zoom, rotate, and you can slice into them using augmented reality – so it’s lots of fun! Anatomy education has a really exciting future with augmented reality. We are hosting a conference in Nottingham for anatomy educators all over the country in December where loads of new approaches and ideas will be shared, so there is work to do in organising that.

The pandemic changed everything as soon as it started. The first medics to succumb to COVID were ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) surgeons because the surgery they do is close to where the virus is located. Operations were cancelled while safe alternatives were developed. We helped the team that do cochlear implant surgery to help restore hearing in deaf babies. Any delay in in the operation has a big impact on these children’s lives, so the surgeons wanted to get back to the operating theatre as quickly as possible. We helped the surgeons by allowing them to use our skulls to develop and practice a COVID-safe procedure. It felt really good to do something concrete at that time. Also, we really wanted to make sure we continued to teach students face to face so we developed new ways of teaching so we could do this safely. It really helped the students during lockdown, especially those that had just moved away from home, to see a friendly face and we all learnt a lot for the future. 

Being an anatomist is so varied that there’s no chance that I will ever get bored

People tend to think that academics have long summer holidays, but I can tell you that we don’t! Outside of work I am in a band, which I really enjoy. It’s definitely something that was way out of my comfort zone to begin with! I love cycling and I am never happier than when on two wheels. I have done some really long charity bike rides with the University Lifecycle team raising money for Children’s Brain Tumour, breast cancer and dementia research among others. 

There’s nothing that I really dislike about my job, and there’s no need to try and stop it being repetitive – being an anatomist is so varied that there’s no chance that I will ever get bored.

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