Novice knowledge of histological eponyms and descriptive terms

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

Research output: Contribution to journalAbstract/Meeting Abstractpeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Use of eponyms in anatomy has been widely debated. Some argue many of these terms are colloquially understood and easy to remember, however student knowledge of these terms is not well documented. To address this, the current study assessed student familiarity with histological eponyms vs. corresponding descriptive terms at the beginning of a histology course at two different institutions and sought student perspectives on the utility of eponyms.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Students at Indiana University (IU; n=49) and the University of Western Australia (n=123) completed a quiz consisting of 30 pairs of eponyms and descriptive terms and were asked to select the body system to which each structure belonged, including "I don't know". Terms were ranked by perceived difficulty. Inter-rater reliabilities were calculated using Fleiss' Kappa, and discrepancies were discussed to consensus. Pairs were compared using chi-square analysis. Additionally, IU students were encouraged to express their opinions of eponyms in histology after taking the quiz via online discussions. Responses were collected midway through the semester and were analyzed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Term difficulty was moderately agreed upon (κ = .460; p<0.01). Chi-square analysis found significant differences between 26 eponym/descriptive term pairs (p<0.05 for all). Students were more likely to place descriptive terms (43% correct) in the correct body system over eponyms (23% correct). Furthermore, students were more likely to respond "I don't know" for an eponym. In the discussions, the majority of IU students felt descriptive terms were more helpful for learning but about half of respondents said eponyms should be taught. Many wanted eponyms taught alongside descriptive terms and wished to choose which term to incorporate into their professional vocabulary. Others didn't choose a side but felt either debating over terminology detracted from progress on other issues in medical sciences or communication in the medical field could benefit from more consistency (i.e. choosing a single term for each structure, eponym or not). Still others felt that emphasis should be placed on learning combining forms. Some expressed concerns about erasing history; those in support of the removal of eponyms felt those interested in such history could easily find it elsewhere. Overall, students mentioned that taking the course changed their opinion of eponyms in some way.

CONCLUSION: This study indicates that novice learners were more likely to place histological descriptive terms in the correct body system than eponyms. Based on student perspectives, histology students want consistency in the vocabulary they are taught, but also want to choose the terms they use based on what they feel is more memorable. Further work is necessary to determine students' perceived utility of eponyms and how they best learn histological terminology.

SIGNIFICANCE/IMPLICATION: This study found that novice learners in histology were able to correctly place descriptive histological terms over eponyms, which provides evidence that descriptive terms may be easier for students to identify. However, student opinions on the use of eponyms in histology education were split and similar to those voiced by educators.


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