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WesternU CPM and CETL collaborate on lower extremity 3D models to enhance student learning

by Rodney Tanaka

February 26, 2024

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Gary A. Wisser, WesternU Educational 3D Visualization Specialist, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), left, and Mary Schuh-Clark, DPM, College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM) Assistant Professor of Podiatric Medicine, Surgery & Biomechanics, collaborated to create 3D printed cross-sections of anatomically correct levels of the lower extremity. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

Western University of Health Sciences College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM) students have new 3D-printed models to help them understand lower extremity anatomy and prepare for surgical rotations.

Third-year College of Podiatric Medicine students under the supervision of WesternU Foot and Ankle Center Medical Director Chandler Hubbard, DPM ’18, FACPM, CWSP, (third from left) review lower limb anatomy utilizing the 3D printed cross-sections developed by Dr. Schuh-Clark and Gary Wisser. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

The models were developed by Educational 3D Visualization Specialist Gary Wisser of WesternU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and CPM Assistant Professor Mary Schuh-Clark, DPM. CPM Director of Continuing Education and Assistant Professor Adrienne Estes, DPM ’13, MS, FACFAS, DABPM, and Foot and Ankle Center Medical Director and CPM Assistant Professor Chandler Hubbard, DPM ’18, FACPM, CWSP, also provided input and materials for the project.

The 3D-printed cross-sections provide anatomically correct levels of the lower extremity starting below the knee and ending below the ankle. They are available for student and faculty use in the WesternU Foot and Ankle Center, the CPM Administration office, and the Pumerantz Library.

Dr. Schuh-Clark drew inspiration for these 3D models from two research papers. The first paper made cross sections from slicing up a cadaver, putting the slices on plexiglass and tracing the shape. The second article showed the levels the Kirschner wires are placed for surgical placement of a Ring External Fixator. She wanted to include the safe zones for external fixation.

“You need to learn cross-sectional anatomy. It’s on the (board exams). Once you get to be a fourth year and resident, you need to know it really well,” Schuh-Clark said.

Schuh-Clark labeled individual parts – nerves, muscles, vessels – so the models became full anatomy models. The models can be used in all settings – from the classroom through residency and into practice.

“I use my foot model in private practice to explain to patients we’re going to put a K-wire here. This is how it’s going to work,” Schuh-Clark said.

These cross-sectional anatomy models will assist CPM students with learning the locations of the neurovascular bundles, especially arteries, as well as the fascial compartments, bones and musculature locations within each cross-section level for Lower Extremity Anatomy pre-clinical students. Students can add and remove the muscles and tendons into the fascial compartments if they bring their own modeling clay, and they can use the unlabeled reference key for self-quizzing.

Third-year CPM student Tiffany Duarte estimates which part of the leg a cross-section depicts. (Jeff Malet, WesternU)

“We spend the first two years (at CPM) learning where everything is and the last two years going on rotations. Usually when you scrub in for surgeries the first question you are asked is ‘What nerve are you trying to avoid?’” said third-year CPM student Sabiha Wahab. “(These models) give us more confidence to prevent side effects after surgery. To not just know anatomy on paper, but with hands-on experience before you’re faced with doing it.”

Third-year CPM student Tiffany Duarte said throughout the leg there is a lot of crossover with different muscles and tendons. It’s easy to forget where those crossovers happen. It’s really convenient to have these models to see how the anatomy changes moving proximally, she said.

“You’re able to look at anatomy in a way that helps your own understanding. For some people, including me, it’s hard to understand anatomy at a 2D level. Being able to touch it and orient yourself from a different perspective is extremely helpful,” Duarte said. “I think it makes you think critically rather than memorizing where it is. You figure out the relationships between the structures. When you have something in hand trying to place it, that makes you think about what’s around it, rather than just memorizing.”

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