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Scoping out the med students’ secret lair

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If you ever find yourself exploring the labyrinthine basement of the Medical Sciences building, and see the sign “Gross Anatomy Division” printed above a descending staircase, know that you are near one of U of T’s better-kept secrets: Grant’s Museum of anatomy.

There, medical students pore over dissected specimens displayed in glass containers, as they strive to familiarize themselves with the human body. Eight stations set up along opposing walls focus on the body’s workings and various organ systems; in the middle are a series of workbenches, where dissections were once performed.

The museum was set up by Dr. John Charles Boileau Grant, a renowned anatomist who taught at U of T from 1930 until 1956. He also wrote Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, still widely used 60 years on, and now in its 11th edition.

Normally, the place is locked down, but each week before before last Thursday’s mini-med school session-a series of weekly seminars for the public on topical health issues put on by the faculty of medicine-program participants were offered a peek.

Last Thursday at 6:30 p.m., a dozen attendees were eagerly milling around and quizzing Taryn Simms and Eric Venos, two first-year medical students on hand to answer questions. High school students wanted to know how they got into medical school; middle-aged folks asked questions related to their health, and made Venos and Simms point out muscles and body parts that had been giving them trouble. The two did their best to provide detailed and informative answers, much the same way a doctor would.

Tall, gaunt, wearing round glasses and sporting dark circles under his eyes, Venos already half-looked the part. He spoke in a low monotone, explaining the workings of certain heart medications to a middle-aged woman; fully-formed paragraphs streamed forth from his mouth. “Could you show me the basal ganglia?” the woman asked him next-referring to a small brain structure, thought to be responsible for motor and learning functions. (Dysfunctions of this structure are linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s.)

Venos laughed awkwardly. “That’s the one part we haven’t done,” he said. But he deftly offered to schedule a follow-up appointment with his her. “Maybe I could look it up, if you want to come down next week,” he said.