2022 STAR Educator Recipient: Annette Occhialini, MD

Dr. Annette OcchialiniAnnette Occhialini, MD

Associate Professor
Department of Cell Systems & Anatomy

Nomination Submission:
 With only three days’ warning, the President announced that “Virtual delivery for didactic coursework…will begin on Monday, March 16.” This necessary response to the pandemic presented a challenge for many educators on campus, but few were as impacted as the Gross Anatomy team. They teach >600 students annually in six different programs from four different schools [dental, graduate, medical, and health professions (OT/PT/PA)] and much of the content is cadaver-based dissections. Undaunted, the Anatomy Team adapted quickly and completed the Spring semester courses through an innovative melding of newly created dissection videos, 3D-printed models, plastinated specimens, novel software modeling, remote lab practical exams, and virtual case presentations. These novel tools, developed for the pandemic, will also benefit future students.
However, that is only part of the story. To bring students safely back into the cadaver labs for the Fall semester, these outstanding educators developed complex plans. For example, the 220 medical students were divided into 3 groups which rotated through the dissection labs in shifts requiring faculty to be present for >6 hours (for each 2-hour lab). Since PPE were scarce, face shields for the faculty were manufactured using the 3D printer and PPE were arranged for the students as well. Importantly, the team was successful; there were no reported COVID cases from exposures in the anatomy labs even though 3 students were positive following Thanksgiving break! Additional time-intensive modifications were implemented; these included: VOPP-recording of lectures, peer-teaching sessions, and sessions using the cameras in dissection labs to demonstrate anatomical variations.
Thus, the pandemic served as a catalyst which accelerated innovation in the teaching of gross anatomy. This accomplishment required the concerted effort of an entire team of dedicated educators working together to ensure that COVID-19 did not compromise the students’ education. They are our Teaching Stars.

Dr. Occhialini’s Faculty Profile