Eponyms or Descriptive Terms: Perspectives from Allied Health Students

Rebecca Wisner, Jessica N Byram, Amanda J Meyer, Margaret A McNulty

Research output: Contribution to journalAbstract/Meeting Abstractpeer-review


INTRODUCTION: The debate whether to teach anatomical eponyms has lacked data regarding health student knowledge and perceptions. A common argument for retaining eponyms is that they are used regularly in health care. The objectives of this study were to assess the familiarity of allied health students (occupational therapy, OT; physical therapy, PT; physician assistant, PA) with eponyms prior to professional anatomy coursework and understand students' perceived utility of learning eponyms.

METHODS: PT, OT, & PA students enrolled in a gross anatomy course (n=125) completed a pre-course quiz consisting of 30 descriptive terms and corresponding eponyms. Students were asked to select the region of the body to which each structure belonged, including "I don't know". Terms were ranked by instructors based on difficulty (easy, medium, hard). Inter-rater reliabilities were calculated using Fleiss' Kappa and discrepancies discussed to consensus. Responses were compared by chi-square analyses. Students also voluntarily completed discussion posts at the course's beginning and midpoint. The first prompt provided two opposing perspectives on the use of eponyms and asked for student opinions. The second prompt shared quiz results and asked students if they were surprised and their opinions again.

RESULTS: Term difficulty was fairly agreed upon (κ = .287; p<0.001). Whether a term was eponymous or descriptive significantly influenced responses for 14 of 30 term pairs (p<0.05 for all). Students were more likely to correctly place a descriptive term (77%) than an eponym (38%), and were far more likely to respond "I don't know" for eponyms (30%) than descriptives (4%). Incorrect and "I don't know" responses increased with difficulty of eponyms but not of descriptive terms. Students expressed four common opinions: only teach descriptive terms starting immediately, gradually phase out eponyms, include eponyms as supplemental information, or teach both terms. Those against eponyms felt they could better explain structures using descriptive terms. Those in favor wanted to learn eponyms commonly used in their discipline and/or known by patients. However, after learning of the quiz results and reading classmates' opinions, many changed their minds, with some stating that the quiz revealed many more eponyms with which they were unfamiliar, and they were not opposed to learning the eponyms in another capacity (i.e. clinical experience).

CONCLUSION: Professional health students were better able to place descriptive terms compared to eponyms. Additionally, students were more likely to correctly place descriptive terms for all difficulty levels over corresponding eponyms, indicating novice learners are able to make an educated guess, even for hard descriptive terms. Many, if not all, the students had prior clinical experience as nurses, scribes, and/or emergency response personnel, yet were unable to correctly place many eponyms, contradicting arguments that eponyms are commonly used in health care settings. Generally, students did not feel it was necessary to be taught eponyms in anatomy.

SIGNIFICANCE: This study provides novel data indicating that matriculating health professional students are better able to correctly place descriptive anatomical terms over eponyms.


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