In one of my pathology lab courses for second-year medical students, we were reviewing the gross and microscopic findings from the autopsy of a patient who had died following acute pulmonary embolism. As I was going through the features that help one distinguish an ante-mortem thrombus vs. a postmortem clot, one of my more outspoken students said sardonically, "This will help me take better care of my patients!"

That comment raised, at least in my mind, a question that I've been wrestling with over the last several years: Why do we teach what we do?

It is interesting how much my own attitude toward this question has changed over the years. There was a time when I felt that a thorough grounding in basic biological knowledge is absolutely critical to being an adequate physician. This premise, that understanding the basic vocabulary of biology is critical to a physician's education, underlay...

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