Samsel RW, Schmidt GA, Hall JB, Wood LDH, Shroff SG, Schumacker PT. Cardiovascular physiology teaching: computer simulations vs. animal demonstrations. Advances in Physiology Education 1994;11:S36–46

PMID: 8017518


The roots of physiology lie in laboratory observation, and physiology courses continue to rely on laboratory observation to provide students with practical information to correlate with their developing base of conceptual knowledge. To this end, animal laboratories provide a functioning example of interactions among organ systems and a source of data for student analysis. However, there are continuing objections to using animals for teaching, and animal labs are costly in time and effort. As an alternative laboratory tool, computer software can simulate the operation of multiple organ systems: responses to interventions illustrate intrinsic organ behavior and integrated systems physiology. Advantages of software over animal studies include alteration of variables that are not easily changed in vivo, repeated interventions, and cost-effective hands-on student access. Nevertheless, simulations miss intangible aspects of experimental physiology, and results depend critically on the assumptions of the model. We used both computer and animal demonstrations in teaching cardiovascular physiology to first-year medical students. The students rated both highly, but the computer-based session received a higher rating. We believe that both forms of teaching have educational merit. At the introductory level, the computer appears to provide an effective alternative.