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Faculty and administration

Thomas Gest

Thomas R. Gest, B.S., M.S., Ph.D

Professor and Course Director of Anatomy

Dr. Thomas Gest's has taught gross anatomy for over three decades at nine medical schools during his training and career, and consequently, he has been exposed to a wide variety of teaching methods and styles. Dr. Gest used his teaching experience in directing the gross anatomy course at the University of Michigan Medical School for over a decade. During this period, the course reached the highest measures of success, with record levels of course and faculty evaluations as well as student performance, both on the course and on the Anatomy and Embryology component of NBME Step I.

Fairly early in his career, Dr. Gest chaired the curriculum committee at the Medical College of Georgia, which provided him insight into the broader vision of strategies, methods, and challenges in medical education. At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he served the school as the Director of Computer Assisted Instructional Development. Dr. Gest has served as a consultant for several medical schools on curriculum matters, and he has served as Dean of Medical Education at a new medical school in St. Martinus, Curacao.

Dr. Gest was able to obtain extramural support for the establishment of an anatomical museum and a plastination laboratory at the University of South Carolina. This plastination lab was one of the first such labs in the United States, and shortly thereafter he joined the University of Michigan, with one of his duties being the establishment of a plastination laboratory there. Together with Dr. Roy Glover, they established one of the largest and most widely recognized plastination facilities in the U.S.

One focus of his work has been learning technology. Together with Dr. Pat Tank, they established the first major installation of computers within a gross anatomy laboratory at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as well as the largest website for gross anatomy in the world at that time. Thereafter, Dr. Gest joined the University of Michigan to accomplish similar goals. He endeavored to enhance online anatomy offerings with easy access to resources, such as online access to a dissection guide supported with videos, practice questions, two atlases (Netter and LWW), cadaver medical histories with full-body CT scans, and donor-based clinical cases. He developed a novel Distinction in Anatomy program while at Texas Tech, and he has developed a similar Distinction in Anatomy program at the University of Houston College of Medicine. They have been analyzing the effect this new program has on various aspects of medical student learning. As part of this work, they are investigating the relationship of dissection and prosection demonstrations to learning outcomes.

Dr. Gest served as Director of Anatomical Donations for the University of Michigan Medical School for over a decade. During this time, they instituted many innovations, such as a sophisticated database and barcoding system, that have made their program one of the leading donations programs in the nation. He served for a number of years as a member of the Anatomical Services Committee of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists. During his time on the ASC, Dr. Gest developed an online repository of contact information for all anatomical donations programs in the country, and now through his association with the IFAA, they are extending this database to include donations programs around the world. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Gest has been fortunate to receive a number of teaching awards from medical schools and medical students. During his five years at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he won five Golden Apple Awards, and in 2003, he received the ultimate teaching honor in the form of the University of Michigan Golden Apple Award, thereby becoming the first and only medical school faculty member to receive this university-wide award.

He has been and continues to be active in research in various aspects of gross anatomy and embryology including the study of anatomical variations, common misconceptions in anatomical knowledge, the development of vascular patterns using corrosion casting, anatomical terminology, various aspects of anatomical donation programs, and innovative teaching techniques in anatomy. These days, his goal is to involve students in research as much as possible in order to promote their careers. Dr. Gest expects the students that he mentors to perform research projects that can be presented at national or regional meetings, and many of these students end up getting their work published as well.

Over the years, he has been active in the American Association for Clinical Anatomists, and as Council Member for many years, he gave his time and energy to promote and facilitate the functions of the Association to benefit all of its members. As Co-Editor of their association’s journal, Clinical Anatomy, he assists in efforts to extend the quality of this publication. As Chair of the Educational Affairs Committee, he strove to bring current educational issues into focus and discussion at their meetings and through the AACA website and listserv during the year. He has served on the Anatomical Services and Clinical Anatomical Terminology Committees as well as several ad hoc committees. He recently served as President of AACA, and he will continue to work diligently to promote the interests of this organization and its members. In 2019, he was elected Treasurer of the IFAA, the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists, and he is honored to serve this association in this role.

He served the National Board of Medical Examiners for over 15 years in several capacities, including as a member of the Step I Item Writing Committee for Gross Anatomy and Embryology and as a member of the Basic Science Task Force. A few years ago, he became a member of FIPAT, the Federative International Programme for Anatomical Terminology, where he now serves as Coordinator of the Gross and Clinical Anatomy Working Group. This group is responsible for the maintenance of Terminologia Anatomica, the official worldwide terminology of anatomy. 

A primary focus of his recent intellectual pursuits has been editorial work and textbook development. In addition to being Co-Editor of Clinical Anatomy, he is Chief Editor for anatomy for Medscape eMedicine, published by WebMD. He wrote several books prior to co-authoring the LWW Atlas of Anatomy with Dr. Pat Tank. During the past several years, Dr. Ben Pansky and he have completed a three-volume set of textbooks for gross anatomy. He finds textbook creation to be a stimulating and satisfying endeavor, and he currently has a number of projects in development.

Dr. Thomas Gest's philosophy of education is to present students with opportunities for self-directed learning with online educational materials that have been developed to allow them to acquire anatomical and embryological knowledge on their own terms. His approach to teaching and learning shifts emphasis from a faculty-centric, lecture-intensive environment to a student-centered learning environment in which students learn at their own pace and faculty support and facilitate their efforts. Because physicians must also be competent communicators and teachers with their patients, he has worked to encourage the development of these skills through peer teaching activities. For gross anatomy, he has emphasized learning through dissection and prosection, since the gross lab provides a perfect small group, problem-solving learning environment, as well as giving the proper environment for learning clinical relevance in an applicable context while providing important insights into ethical issues, the importance of teamwork, and other intangible yet important aspects of health care.