Anatomy TA Program

Some fellow new TAs and me in the rotunda!

In a crowded room with students constantly moving around, talking, and working on cadavers, the anatomy lab seems to be a busy place where nobody in particular gets noticed. Little did we know as first semesters, however, that the TAs and professors have long been watching us. They took note of our behaviors around the lab, our dedication, our dissection skills, our knowledge, and our willingness to help others. They were taking note of the students who they thought would make great TAs.

By the end of last semester, I was really hoping to be considered for TA. I heard so many rumors and stories about how they might choose them. During the break, I checked my email day by day to see if there is any from the head TAs or anatomy chairs. By the time I arrived back to St. Maarten to start second semester, my hopes were down… they must have sent the notifications by now! But soon, I heard from others too that they never received any notifications either. So later, we went to talk to the department head and the head TAs and they said they were in the process of finalizing the list. Last week, I finally received an email saying that I have been chosen to be one of the next TAs. I immediately accepted my position. As a large amount of TAs from last semester have finished their contracts, the anatomy department are in desperate need for new people to fill their spots: 40 new positions to be filled for this semester. Therefore, out of our class of nearly 200 students, around 60 were chosen, hoping that enough people will accept to meet the quota.

To be chosen, there is a minimum grade required, which varies every semester depending on the class average that semester and the demand for TAs. In previous semesters, the cut-off has been known to be as low as 83 to as high as 87. In addition, the student must have also demonstrated skill, professionalism, dedication, teamwork, and good attitude. I personally know several people who made the grade, but were not chosen. The power of veto is in the TAs hands. After all of this, the list of candidates is discussed with the department heads, and the final list is approved. So first semester students, if you want to be a TA, don’t be passive in lab. Take action with the scalpel, have positive, intellectual discussions with your colleagues, TAs, and professors, and come to the night TA sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday! Be a likeable person and be on the TA’s good side.

This past Friday afternoon, I worked my way into my scrubs, which I hadn’t worn for nearly a month by now, and went to the Anatomy TA orientation. These are some things that were discussed:

  • TAs are chosen because of their excellent performance and abilities as students in Anatomy Lab.
  • TAs are an augmentation of the Anatomy faculty, and must demonstrate professionalism. Like all faculty, they are subject to student evaluation.
  • There is a minimum 2 semester commitment in the Anatomy TA program.
  • This semester, TAs are assigned a specific 1-hour time slot per week as well as help administer 1 mock exam during the semester. As the class was twice as large last semester, the TAs last semester were assigned 2-hour time slots and 2 mock exams. This may not seem like a lot of time commitment, but in reality, most time will be spent on preparation.
  • The time slots, day or night, or the day of the week, are assigned at random for the TAs.
  • You can come as many days, for however long you want, so long that you fulfill your assigned time slot commitment.
  • No TA is specifically assigned for commitment on Friday labs. Instead, it is completely voluntarily decided the week before.
  • TAs are allowed to use the TA lounge anytime they want. I suddenly feel like part of a special secret society who have access to secrete places.
  • There are awards for the top three TAs who dedicate the most extra hours to the anatomy lab. The first place is awarded $200, second place $100, and third place $50. The record is someone putting in 85 extra hours.
  • There is an award for the “Best TA.” I’m not sure what it is called… the “Dr. N Award”?
  • Three head TAs are selected.
  • To distinguish the TAs from the anatomy students, TAs are not to wear white coats, but scrubs only.
  • There are no TAs who are assigned specifically to the dry lab. Instead, any TA can go help out students there.
  • As a TA, you are not allowed more than three absences.
  • As being a TA is completely voluntary, there is no penalty for whoever feel that they need to drop out of the program due to academic difficulties.
  • If you don’t know something as a TA, it is better to ask someone else who may know the answer than to give wrong information.

Then, the Anatomy Department head, Dr. N, gave a very impressive impromptu speech about the great things we can all achieve in life here at AUC and through the TA program. Often times Dr. N surprises me. Despite his appearances (the classic “mad scientist” look), he is actually a really good, really awe-inspiring speaker, and he seemingly does not even need to try! I think he should give more speeches. I would love to hear more of what he has to say.

Afterwards, we took a tour of the TA lounge, and other “restricted” areas. The lounge is nice… there are numerous copies of Netter’s Anatomy Atlas and other references as well as dissection kits left behind by previous students who decide to donate them to the lab. They also have a dart board, coffee machine, and study area. Perhaps I’ve found my new study area! I was surprised to find a research lab in there as well, where professors can conduct their own research. It is a privilege to be able to walk in here freely at any time.

Being a TA is an opportunity on so many levels. I do admit I’m a little nervous yet excited in being a TA. There is much I surprisingly have forgotten already, yet at the same time there is also much that I surprisingly still remember. This is the main reason I want to be a TA… to laminate all this knowledge well in my head, to prepare for the Step I Exam. Being a TA would also look very good on my CV, and give me a chance to work closer to professors and students across semesters. It will be a time-consuming, yet enriching experience… perhaps I should consider renaming this blog “Diary of a Caribbean Anatomy TA”!