Anatomy Teaching Complex Named for Longtime Educator

Suzanne Tank, Patrick Tank’s wife, and David Davies, Ph.D., unveil a portrait of the late anatomy educator that will be displayed in the Anatomy Teaching Complex.

The late Patrick Tank, M.D., in the Gross Anatomy Lab with medical students. (2009 file photo)

Debra H. Fiser, M.D., College of Medicine dean, praises Patrick Tank’s accomplishments in anatomy and medical education.
Gwen Childs, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences chair, served as master of ceremonies for the dedication ceremony.

Dec. 14, 2012 | Colleagues and students from both ends of a 34-year teaching career remembered a gifted educator, anatomist and scientific author during a Dec. 7 dedication ceremony for the Patrick W. Tank Anatomy Teaching Complex at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Tank taught gross anatomy to more than 4,000 freshman medical students and hundreds of graduate students at UAMS between 1978 and his death from cancer in July 2012. He was a professor and pillar in the College of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences (formerly the Department of Anatomy) who designed the gross anatomy complex, which opened in 1995, and spearheaded a major expansion in 2009.

“Because of Dr. Tank, we have a state-of-the-art anatomy teaching complex that has been absolutely critical to our efforts to enroll more students and produce the greater number of physicians that Arkansas will need in the decades ahead,” said Debra H. Fiser, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine.

“We are dedicating this anatomy teaching complex to one of our most gifted, distinguished and dedicated educators,” said Gwen Childs, Ph.D., who chairs the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences and served as master of ceremonies.

The event included an unveiling of a portrait of Tank and the reading of a memorial plaque. Emotional tributes flowed from several colleagues and former students, including Lee Archer, M.D., a professor of neurology in the College of Medicine who was in Tank’s first freshman gross anatomy class.

“I’m very proud that (UAMS) is naming this complex after someone who never lost his love of teaching, someone who never wavered in his enthusiasm and his ability to bond with students and who constantly sought to improve the ways that his students learned,” said Archer.

Bill Wright, M.D., an anesthesiologist in Little Rock who earned a master’s degree under Tank’s tutelage before entering medical school at UAMS in 1986, said he was grateful to Tank. He remembered a “steady stream” of medical students at Tank’s door. “Probably a third just wanted some sense of direction and reassurance,” Wright said. “Pat always listened to everyone. He was gracious, kind and encouraging.”

Third-year medical student Vanessa Sanders, whose class was the last to study the intricacies of the human body with Tank as freshmen, said the professor went “the extra mile” to make sure students understood the material. “He was able to take these impossible amounts of information and put them in perfect chunks that made the impossible seem doable,” she said.

Sanders read tributes to Tank from several classmates, including one student who wrote, “He had a knack for inspiring us to see the human body as a wondrous object worthy of study.”

The 19,000-square-foot anatomy complex occupies the lowest level of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health building on the north end of the UAMS campus. The main dissection laboratory easily accommodates the current freshman medical class of 174 students, with room for up to 200, and it can be partitioned as needed for smaller groups. Additional rooms and alcoves are dedicated for other teaching purposes, diverse anatomical resources, computers and study space, dressing rooms and other uses.

“This complex is built for active learning, experience-based learning,” said David Davies, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences and current director of the Medical Gross Anatomy course. “People think of it as a gross anatomy lab, but it is much, much more than that.”

Designed for versatility, the facility also will be used  to teach gross anatomy to students in the UAMS College of Health Professions’ new Physician Assistant master’s degree program, which starts in May 2013, Davies said.

Shirley Gilmore, Ph.D., who served as chair of Anatomy in 1984-1999, said the facility remains one of Tank’s greatest contributions. She discussed how Tank worked intensely for 18 months to design the new complex from the ground up. One of the surprising features, for the early to mid-1990s, was Tank’s decision to place computers inside the laboratory itself, she said.

Fiser also cited Tank’s internationally recognized, pioneering work in computer-based medical education. She noted that he developed a website for the gross anatomy course in the 1990s that remains a leading resource for students worldwide. “I think it’s fascinating – and significant – that Pat’s legacy spans these very different modes of teaching,” Fiser said.

Tank directed the Medical Gross Anatomy course and the Anatomical Gift Program from 1985 to 2011. He also served as director of education and as an interim department chairman. He held the Charles H. and Charles M. Lutterloh Medical Excellence Professorship from 1998 to 2001.

Tank edited the last three editions of “Grant’s Dissector,” a manual used internationally. He published extensively and authored several books and anatomy atlases. Tank received more than 30 student-selected teaching awards at UAMS. In recent years, he also received the UAMS Chancellor’s Teaching Award and the College of Medicine’s Master Teacher and Distinguished Faculty Service awards.

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