My horrible experience in the anaplastology program at UIC (University of Illinois Chicago)

This is my story of my horrible experience in the UIC Biomedical Visualization anaplastology program.  I did not receive the education that was expected nor the support from faculty that I deserved. I hope that I can share my honest insight about this program so that no one else has to go through what I did.

For anyone interested in medical illustration or animation the BVIS program is very well known for this. I never had an interest in this aspect of the program, I applied to the program solely for anaplastology.

What They Didn’t Tell me

  • Rosemary Seelaus, the anaplastology instructor,  is technically under jurisdiction of College of Medicine Department of Surgery and not part of the College of Applied Health Sciences (including BVIS).  This means they have no way to regulate her.  They cannot hire a new instructor and they cannot fire her. All they can do is choose to offer the anaplastology program or not.  The program is currently under suspension.
  • It has been known to  John Daughtery, the BVIS program director, and Larry Pawola,the Head and Director of Graduate Studies Department of BHIS,  that she has been a problem for years.  In Dr. Pawola’s words, Rosie tends to “eb and flow” and that I should “make the best of it.”  John’s advice to me was to “make it through.”
  • The BVIS program is not constructed with the anaplastology student in mind.  In fact, they have recently changed the curriculum to require even more 2D art classes.  For a 3D minded artist such as myself I found this really challenging and not enjoyable. I did not feel that my needs as an anaplastolgy student were met nor were many of the required classes appropriate for someone that had no intention of going into medical illustration.
  • There’s actually not many anaplastology classes offered.  At most, one per semester.  The credit hours don’t actually match with the class hours either.
  • Due to the many non-related required classes and so few anaplastology classes I never actually had an understanding of what the program is like until after the 3rd semester (of 5 semesters).  By this time it made more sense to me to just finish the program than to be in debt for nothing.

My Official Complaints When I Took Myself from Under Rosie’s Instruction

  • Instructor not present to scheduled class times
  • Instructor tardiness to my patient appointments
  • Lack of supervision during class time
  • Instructor consistently scheduling patients during class times
  • Sporadic and non-prioritized instruction
  • Failure to cover syllabus materials

*As a note- my breaking point occurred when I was working with a patient and was asked to perform tasks that I had no previous knowledge or practice in.  I had been working on the patient while Rosie had her back to me.   She was on the computer checking her email and other things unrelated to the patient in the room.  The only time she turned around was when she had her hands on the prosthesis or the patient to briefly direct me. After 2 hours of this I told her that I found the computer distracting and asked if she could observe me instead.  She immediately took over the patient without explaining anything to me.  As soon as the patient left I was berated for questioning her teaching methods.  I left crying and went to John Daughtery for help.  The best advice I was given was to try to make it through the semester. I felt so helpless.

My Background

I am a BFA student with a focus in sculpture from the University of Michigan.  For my senior thesis I cast body parts and in silicone and plastic.  This is how I discovered the fascinating field of anaplastology.  I was so excited that I visited UIC twice to tour the facilities, talk to students, and interview for the program.  I heard nothing but good things from everyone I had talked to.

First semester

Class: Volunteer in CFC

There were not any anaplastology classes offered as first semester had many required classes.  Rosemary Seelaus, the only instructor of anaplastology, did however offer a volunteer opportunity at the Craniofacial Clinic so anaplastology students could start to get more comfortable in the clinical setting.   As an arts major I thought this was a great idea! I was very grateful another student (of the 19 others in the Biomedical Visualization program) decided to volunteer with me.  This first semester should have been a warning sign but I was so excited about the program.  More than half the time Rosie wasn’t even in the CFC or had forgotten that we were coming in.  She gave us her number to text or call her if needed but she kept telling us to ask other staff if they needed any help.  I was content to be in the CFC and was still getting my bearings.

Second Semester

Class: Special Topics in Anaplastology 2Cr.

Finally after a tough semester of gross anatomy and other non anaplastology art classes I would finally get to sculpt again! The only goal of this  (14 week) class was to sculpt and cast a silicone ear. The first few classes went alright. Rosie would show up for an hour or so and show us the basic steps. After this we rarely saw Rosie again.  If we were finished with a step and needed direction she would spend minimal time explaining before disappearing again. The second year anaplastology student also had class during this time and often had a patient that required Rosie’s attention. I had felt that I had a very basic understanding of this process (I have had previous experience sculpting and casting objects so not much was new) but would have greatly benefited from supervision.  Rosie made us make an end-of-semester presentation to show what we had learned.  After waiting a half hour for her to show up, she told us that we should present it next week because she needed to work with the second year student on her research paper.

This was also the semester that we would decided our research project. I told myself that I would take initiative so that I could better understand the process to get the most of my research project.  I asked Rosie her opinion for research topics but was left with a “do what interests you” kind of attitude.  I asked to observe patients because I didn’t feel I had a full understanding of a start to finish case.  How was I supposed to come up with a topic if I had no idea of the steps needed to create a prosthesis for the patient? I asked Rosie if there was a patient I could observe to see the process in chronological order.  I was told to come early that next week to finish my class duties so that I could observe a patient that was scheduled during my regular class time.  I arrived early and Rose gave me my class tasks to finish.  I finished the tasks before the class start time.  As I waited into our scheduled class time, my other classmate arrived and I explained our tasks for the day.  It turned out that the patient she had referred to the previous Friday (it was now Monday) wasn’t scheduled and there was a different patient coming in a bit later for the second year student.  I wait patiently in the lab helping my classmate catch up until I realize Rosie never let me know the patient had arrived.  The room was fairly full with her, the second year student, and the patient. I felt discouraged and ended up leaving.  I had expressed my interested in observing again but was never told of another opportunity.

Summer Semester

Class: Technology in Anaplastology 2Cr.

This semester I was the only student. The second year student had graduated and my classmate decided anaplastology wasn’t for her. I thought maybe because I was the ONLY anaplastology student I would get much more individual attention.

I had also emailed a professor for a class that was on Rosie’s recommended list but the professor had no idea what my major was or why a non-dental student was trying to get into his Maxillofacial Prosthetics class.  Turns out the class wasn’t being offered that summer but was still on registration for an unknown reason.  I was confused why a class that had been on Rosie’s recommended list didn’t seem to be familiar with the anaplastology program.

First day, Rosie was very late.  So late that when she finally arrived I told her that we needed to talk.  I expressed my concern that I never knew when she was actually going to show up or be around if I needed help. I expressed my frustration with not understanding the full prosthesis process and her scheduling patients during my class time.  Her response was that I would have more lab time and she would only have patients if it could be valuable to my education. I left the conversation positive and hoped that communication was all that was needed.

I was wrong. Turns out that there were “relevant patients” EVERY CLASS PERIOD.  Rosie would assign me projects that were relevant to her current patients.  I did have more lab time but it was unsupervised by her.  There were many times that I would have to repeat steps due to my inexperience or lack of clear instructions.  There were times when I was instructed on what material to use but was never shown how to use it.  A lot of materials were wasted because of this.  I also spent much more time correcting my errors that I was unaware of due to lack of supervision.  On one instance she had requested that I come in early the next morning to have the CNC mill cut out a wax nose for a patient later that day.  I arrived at 9am that day per her request.  When I realized I did not have sufficient data I went to look for Rosie.  She did not arrive until 9:45. Because she had arrived late and the data required more work it would not be ready in time for the patient. I valued being able to finally observe patient care (this is what I had wanted all last semester after all) until I started to realize we were falling behind on the syllabus. I had to pester Rosie to cover items on the syllabus. It took 3 weeks to have her show me how to work the 3DMD, a photogrammetry device.  She finally did, in the last 15 min of the day after she had scheduled patient work all day.  When I had brought in a model to practice, which I had previously asked her permission, she had questioned why.  She also gave me a digital assignment that I had finished in close to a week.  She finally looked at it on the last day of the semester.  I had felt that she had taken advantage of my agreement to work on patient cases that were relevant to my education.  Instead of instructing me in a way that would benefit my educational needs she assigned me projects that would keep my busy while she took patients.  During this time I did not observe Rosie working on patient cases between appointments. I often felt that she would assign me the lab work for these patients to keep up with her caseload.

The end of this semester was rough.  I had a lot of other work in my other required classes such as surgical orientation that required sketches or Clinical Science with a final project in molecular pharmacology.  Rosie had requested that I make another end-of-the-semester presentation.  At this point it really sunk in how little we had covered from the syllabus, how there was literally a patient every class period, and how little new anaplastology material I had learned from her thus far.

Fall Semester

Class: Clinical Anaplastology 4Cr.

The first day of class Rosie was not there.  I asked Bob and Brian, the ocularist and prosthodontist, if they had seen her. They told me that the previous week she told them I didn’t show up for class (that she had canceled). She arrived an hour after the BVIS schedule showed the class started.  In that time I went to John in hope that he could help somehow and to show to him how little she had covered in the last semester.  We eventually scheduled a meeting to discuss the lack of instruction and the fact that she was not a certified anaplastologist (she is now). Because of this talk in his presence things did get better slightly. She scheduled lectures with other clinicians in the CFC for me.  She also scheduled days working with the ocularist and the other anaplastologist- these were on the syllabus from the previous semester.

This semester I was expected to work on patients.  Rosie was slightly better at instructing this class as she actually had to be there (there were still times she would leave me alone with the patient for various times while on some task).  From the very beginning I was performing tasks either on the prosthesis or on the patient.  It was very stressful.  The second class I expressed to Rosie that I found this method very stressful and asked if there was any way that I could practice before I had to work on an actual patient.  She responded, “We do not have the resources for that.” and that “It is expected that you do things for the first time on patients … they understand that you are a student.”  I decided to focus on the patient cases and expected that even if it was uncomfortable at least I would learn more.  I ended up taking 3 of her patient cases.  Once again these were not necessarily chronological, just wherever she had left off.  One patient I did get to start from the beginning and plan his whole treatment.  As usual, my lab work was not supervised or strongly guided.  I would often spend a day working only to be told that I made some error that required me to start over.  One case had molds already created but Rosie wanted to make a new one.  When the new mold did not turn out as hoped, she instructed me to alter it.  This resulted in part of the prosthesis not fitting correctly.  I personally felt that this class was not managed in a responsible or professional manner.  I would often arrive to prepare for my patient appointments but Rosie would not be there.  She would often arrive after the appointment time even after I had her paged at the time I was instructed to be there.

My breaking point occurred when I was working with a patient and was asked to perform tasks that I had no previous knowledge or practice in.  I had been working on the patient while Rosie had her back to me.   She was on the computer checking her email and other things unrelated to the patient in the room.  The only time she turned around was when she had her hands on the prosthesis or the patient to briefly direct me. After 2 hours of this I told her that I found the computer distracting and asked if she could observe me instead.  She immediately took over the patient without explaining anything to me.  As soon as the patient left I was berated for questioning her teaching methods.  I left crying and went to John Daughtery for help.  The best advice I was given was to try to make it through the semester. He told me to take an hour to calm down and return to finish my duties. I felt so helpless.

Over the long weekend I decided that I wouldn’t accept this solution. I wrote an email to both Rosie and John expressing my complaints against the program and how discouraging the whole experience had been.  I did not feel this was a healthy learning environment and refused to be under Rosie’s guidance any longer.  John had previously suggested that I file a grievance, but I had learned that this did not cover my situation.  John agreed to switch my research advisor and asked the Camille, the one other anaplastologist, to take over for the last few weeks.  During this time, all of the appointments I had made for my patients under Rosie’s guidance were canceled.  The patient that I had scheduled the whole treatment plan never got the prosthesis before thanksgiving as I had planned.

During my end-of-the-semester presentation John had brought in a potential student to see the anaplastology program.  After everything I had brought to his attention I could not believe that he was still promoting it.

After It All

The only prostheses that I had completed was the ear from the very first anaplastology class, an ocular (with the ocularist), and a fingernail (with Camille).  I still do not have a full understanding of a start to finish case.

I had met with Dr. Pawola where he had basically told me that there was nothing that they could do to make up for my lack of education but could help set up an internship if I had wanted one.  The only thing that BVIS could do to put pressure on Rosie was to starve her of students.  I had met with the 3 first year anaplastology students to share my experience and give them advice.  John began attending ALL of the anaplastology classes for the first year students to make sure that Rosie was teaching.  This seems to have helped as they have gotten though more material than I ever did.  To my knowledge the anaplastology program is currently suspended.

I registered for my final semester but could never bring myself to put forth a whole hearted effort. I was never fully registered for my research credits due lack of permission from my switch in advisors.  I decided it would be best for me to withdraw from the semester and continue in the fall.  I sent out a courtesy email to my research committee with John Daughtery CC’d.  The response from my committee was mostly of concern for my wellbeing.  John had reacted to a line in my email where I mentioned that I would be “in contact if needed.”  His response was that my committee, aka the two names that show up in registration- his and my committee chair, “are not being paid to work with students who are not registered.”  My intention of the email was to show my commitment to finish not to take advantage of anyone.  His email made it very apparent that he valued my tuition money more than my education.

I am currently finishing my research and one final required class.  I hope to graduate this winter.   Going into this program I was very excited about my future in this field.  After this experience I feel very discouraged and do not foresee myself pursuing the career.  As the only student in my year interested in anaplastology I was never a priority to the BVIS program. They have since revised the program to require more 2D classes. I am in a lot of debt for this horrible experience.  I do not recommend this program to anyone interested in anaplastology.

Maya Issues

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I made an ocular!

I spent two days with the ocularist at the Craniofacial Center and this is the result!

I enjoyed just hanging out in the lab and not worrying about patients coming and going.  I think I could easily be a lab geek if that were an option.

This is a bit hard to see in the picture, but this is the painted iris button after I ground down the edges a bit for a softer edge.

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Here’s he mold before it was packed with acrylic.

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(Let’s skip a few steps) And here’s the finished eye!  By the end of it I got a lot better at working with the mono-poly color washes and enjoyed placing in the blood vessels.

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The final polish really brings it to life and makes the colors in the iris pop.  For being the first time I’ve ever made one I think it turned out pretty well!

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Surgical Orientation Sketches

Another thing I never thought a simple art student like myself would ever have the opportunity to do is view live surgeries!  The whole process is still very stressful for me even though all I’m doing is staying out of everyone else’s way!  I observed an ear reconstruction, multiple cranial implants for prosthesis retention, a cochlear implant, and there’s some sketches from a total knee replacement.Surg1Surg3

The surgical team was so calm every time.  It made me wonder what it was like to have surgery be a part of your everyday activity.  Maybe it was difficult to wrap my head around  just because we spend so much time trying to protect our bodies when their job is to open us up.

Surg2 Surg4Surgery is something that I know is a pretty common occurrence, but I’ve never really thought of surgeons as normal people.  In my head they’re more like super heroes with awesome surgical powers or made up TV characters.  In reality they’re just dedicated and talented people, but still just a normal person like you or me.  It was a really interesting reality check and overall a grounding experience.

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Finished Wig Fronts

Here’s a few finished fronts for Twisted.  I used the plastic lace that came on the synthetic wigs and was surprised how well it worked for this show.  It’s darker colored than the actor’s actual skin tone so the front did have a bit of a noticeable line. As character wigs it was acceptable but I wouldn’t use that for something I would want to be subtle.Also the plastic lace is a lot stiffer than the lace I would normally use, but I think that made it a bit more durable since I wasn’t around to assist getting the actors in and out of them.

So this is what all of the fronts looked like when they arrived.  You can see the long plastic material extending in the front and how unrealistic the front hairline looks.

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Here’s the finished Gaston front.

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Here’s the finished Aladdin front.

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And I thought I’d throw in some Princess Jasmine photos.  You can see how the plastic lace is darker and very visible in the first photo, so it’s not the best for the most realistic front. (this was before it was trimmed)

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Mustache Fun!

I think Christmas has come early!  Lots of mustaches for me to play with for Twisted, a new Starkid show.  It’s an Aladdin musical that’s actually about Jafar.
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 I decided it wasn’t worth it to build any of the mustaches myself but I did take the time to have some fun styling a few.

Can’t go wrong with a handlebar.

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And I may have gotten a bit carried away with this one…

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Mustaches for nasal prostheses

This past week I had the opportunity to visit Medical Art Resources, Inc. in Milwaukee, WI.  Julie Brown and Megan Thomas have been very kind to me ever since I first met both of them about a month ago.  Their office was much smaller than what I’m used to in the in the Craniofacial Center but it actually made it seem much more manageable.   They had just the right space for all the necessary tools and workspace.  It was nice to get away from the clutter and chaos of all that goes on at the university facilities.

These mustaches are for a patient that had traveled from another state to replace his nasal prosthesis.  Mustaches can be helpful for masking the bottom edge of the prosthesis. Previously they have been using costume mustaches.

 Here’s some pictures of the untrimmed mustaches I hand made for them.

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The patient’s hair was actually a bit darker than the one they had purchased so I mixed in more dark hairs.  I matched the shape and density of the mustaches so they had a much better fit for the prosthesis.  A benefit of hand knotting is that I have control over the direction of the hair so it will “grow” down in the center and outward on the sides instead of all down.  Also, the lace I used is much finer allowing smaller knots and more even distribution.  Single strands were tied to the top layers creating a softer, more natural appearance than the purchased mustache.

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