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Michael Wiley, a Surgeon’s Anatomist, Retires


Michael Wiley

When Mike Willey joined the Division of Anatomy 39 years ago in 1976, Anatomy was a separate department in the Faculty of Medicine. Shortly afterward, the amount of time available to Anatomy in the curriculum was decreased, leading to staff reductions, and administrative mergers began.

Under Dean Arnie Aberman, the anatomists talked to Laboratory Medicine, Pathobiology, Medical Biophysics, Physiology and Surgery about merger. John Wedge was particularly helpful and facilitated the adoption of the Division of Anatomy into the Department of Surgery.

“Our Division of Anatomy is the best teaching Division of Anatomy in the world. The Division of Anatomy has always had equal standing with the other divisions in the Department of Surgery with a seat on the Senior Advisory Committee and the Promotions Committee. We have a regular rotation in the Grand Rounds cycle with the Harland Smith Lecture, and our own budgetary independence. When the University cut the support of both the clinical and the basic scientists, the clinical cut was considerably more severe. John Wedge made sure that the Division of Anatomy was treated on an equal footing with the basic science departments rather than the clinical departments.

“We teach dissection with very good laboratory demonstrators. Occasionally surgical alumni step in to help, Bob Filler and Alan Hudson among them. Recently, we’ve had a general surgical resident, Chethan Sathya, teaching. They have all done a superb job”

Q: You have been widely praised for your teaching methods. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

A: “The first year medical students focus is the whole organism. We realize that they won’t all go into anatomically focused specialties such as Surgery, Radiology and Pathology. The lectures follow the tradition of Harry Whitaker, a revered past teacher, who said: ‘Keep it simple, accessible and logical in its sequence’. I teach most of the course, so I know what the students have had and what they will have. The flow is steady, unlike courses with multiple teachers who repeat and overload students because their goal is to be sure they get enough background . We use a well-illustrated note package that is popular with the students.


sample of one of the illustrations from the anatomy notes: Innervation of the tongue

“The virtual microscope is our alternative to the hours of the old punitive exercise of looking down microscope barrels trying to focus bad images, without knowing how to set up the scope, and asking teachers who stagger between students to identify structures. I found a company that was working on high resolution pictures of pathology and other images to be placed digitally into the medical record. I talked to the company, got a grant from the University Provost and worked with the company to modify their program, so that now students do their histology at home with annotated slides which they can enlarge and move easily with their computer.


screen shot from the digital histology program that is used for instructing the students on how to use the program for the first time: duodenum

There is a much lower stress level and they perform very well on tests. My favorite place to teach is in the dissecting room, with small groups. The students appreciate the dissection experience and it gives them the opportunity to teach each other. This is a very productive opportunity for exchange of information on more than just anatomy.”

Q: What are the values that drive the teaching program?

A: “From the very start, the people in the Anatomy Department were committed to teaching and very dedicated to students. The students instituted a Harry Whitaker Award for the Best Teacher of Anatomy. ” Mike has won this several times. He is surrounded by dedicated teachers. The Anatomy Division ranks at the top of University groups in teaching awards, having won the Aikins Award, the highest teaching award in the Faculty of Medicine, a total of 9 times.

The Division has a proud history of publications, ‘Grant’s Atlas’, the reference standard for Anatomy throughout the world is a product of our anatomists. It is currently edited by Anne Agur. The specimens from which the drawings were taken are now in the JCB Grant Anatomy Museum. The Grant’s Anatomy artists eventually became the Division of Biomedical Communications (http://www.surgicalspotlight.ca/Shared/PDF/Summer07.pdf page 7). There is currently an explosion of anatomy atlases, but Grant’s remains the premier example. It is not simply an information dump, but has a very strong teaching component.”

Michael retired on June 30th, 2015, but continues to teach part-time. His wife is a retired school teacher with a Master’s Degree in special education. After raising 5 children, when she returned to the classroom, she developed an expertise in teaching children with autism. Their 5 children include Joseph, a fellow in Pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children; Daniel who is doing a doctorate in Communications at New York University; David, a civil engineer; Kate, a highschool teacher with a focus on teaching children with autism; and Margaret, the Residential Program Manager at Camp Oochigeas, a camp for children with cancer on Lake Rosseau that runs activities all year, including winter camps , and has approximately 400 adult volunteer counselors, including three of her siblings.


Mike Wiley in the Anatomy museum

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: “Valor Road” by John Nadler, the story of three World War I Victoria Cross winners from Winnipeg and “Lines on the Water” by David Richards, a book about fly fishing and the author’s life growing up in the Miramichi River Valley, one of Michael’s hobbies. He also plays old-timers hockey and is developing a vacation property in Madawaska.

Q: Of your many accomplishments, what is your proudest?

A: My family. They are all productive contributors to our community.


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