The additional role of virtual to traditional dissection in teaching anatomy: a randomised controlled trial

Rafael Boscolo-Berto, Cinzia Tortorella, Andrea Porzionato, Carla Stecco, Edgardo Enrico Edoardo Picardi, Veronica Macchi, Raffaele De Caro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Anatomy has traditionally been taught via dissection and didactic lectures. The rising prevalence of informatics plays an increasingly important role in medical education. It is hypothesized that virtual dissection can express added value to the traditional one. Methods: Second-year medical students were randomised to study anatomical structures by virtual dissection (intervention) or textbooks (controls), according to the CONSORT guidelines. Subsequently, they applied to the corresponding gross dissection, with a final test on their anatomical knowledge. Univariate analysis and multivariable binary logistic regression were performed. Results: The rate of completed tests was 76.7%. Better overall test performance was detected for the group that applied to the virtual dissection (OR 3.75 with 95% CI 0.91–15.49; p = 0.06). A comparable performance between groups in basic anatomical knowledge (p 0.45 to 0.92) but not muscles and 2D-3D reporting of anatomical structures was found, for which the virtual dissection was of tendential benefit (p 0.08 to 0.13). Medical students who applied to the virtual dissection were over three times more likely to report a positive outcome at the post-dissection test than those who applied to textbooks of topographical anatomy. This would be of benefit with particular reference to the understanding of 2D–3D spatial relationships between anatomical structures. Conclusion: The combination of virtual to traditional gross dissection resulted in a significant improvement of second-year medical students’ learning outcomes. It could be of help in maximizing the impact of practical dissection, overcoming the contraction of economic resources, and the shortage of available bodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-479
Number of pages11
JournalSurgical and Radiologic Anatomy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Body donation
  • Cadaver dissection
  • Clinical anatomy
  • Education
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Virtual dissection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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