Educational experiment

When Mayo Medical School was established in September 1972, an “experiment” was conducted with anatomy education (1). The first dean of the Mayo Medical School, Dr. Raymond Pruitt, did not believe Mayo needed anatomists to teach the structure of the body, and thus the surgeons taught the subject with a focus on the importance of different organs in relationship to diseases (2). At first, there was not a required gross anatomy course, thus the anatomy instructions were scattered throughout the organ system courses. As a free standing course, Gross Anatomy was offered later in the curriculum as a third year elective; approximately half of the medical students attended the course. It was a very successful course taught by an anesthesiologist/anatomist: Dr. Duane Rorie.

Microscopic anatomy was taught as part of a brief course called “Introduction to Structure,” and embryology was offered as a course instructed by faculty in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. After Dr. Pruitt retired in 1977, the second dean of the Mayo Medical School, Dr. John Shepherd, evaluated anatomy education and came to the conclusion that the “anatomy experiment” was not working well. Not only were surgeons too busy to teach anatomy (2), but also several Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accreditation reviews (1973, 1975, and 1978) noted deficiencies in anatomy curriculum and concluded that Mayo must have a professional anatomist.

Department of Anatomy established

In 1980, the Mayo Anatomy Curriculum Review Committee recommended that the school establish a new Section of Anatomy, appoint a dedicated anatomist, and develop a separate required Gross Anatomy course for first year medical students. The Section of Anatomy was established in July 1980. In September of that year, the first anatomist, Dr. Donald Cahill from the University of Miami, was hired as a full time faculty member and Dr. Rorie assumed full-time duties in the Department of Anesthesiology where he later became chair. In 1981, Dr. Stephen Carmichael (as a visiting faculty member from University of West Virginia) with Dr. Cahill introduced Gross Anatomy as a required course, and the third year Anatomy elective was phased out in 1982. Dr. Carmichael joined the Mayo Clinic faculty in August 1982 and has remained on staff since then.

The Department of Anatomy was established on October 1, 1984 as a response to concerns expressed in a 1983 LCME accreditation review and in 1984 by the North Central Association of Colleges and School about the lack of departmental status for anatomy education. Dr. Cahill became first chair of the newly created Department of Anatomy at Mayo Clinic and he held this position until 1991. When Dr. Cahill retired in 1999, Dr. Wojciech Pawlina was hired from the University of Florida College of Medicine as his replacement. In 1991 Dr. Stephen Carmichael was appointed the next chair of the Department. He stepped down as a Chair in 2005 and since then Dr. Pawlina has been serving as Department Chair. Dr. Carmichael retired in 2007 and Dr. Nirusha Lachman was hired from Durban University of Technology.

Among the distinguished anatomists at Mayo Clinic was Dr. W. Henry Hollinshead, and he worked extensively with residents in training and with surgeons at Mayo to develop new surgical techniques. He is probably best known for his three-volume textbook “Anatomy for Surgeons.”


  1. Cahill, DR, (1997) Departmental Profile Series: Department of Anatomy, Mayo Medical School, AAA Newsletter Series 6, Number 4 December, pages 11-13.
  2. Shepherd, JJ. (2003) Inside the Mayo Clinic, 1st Edition, Afton Historical Society Press, Afton, MN, page 107.