by Zachary Allred, DO
former teaching assistant/mentor, SBS Anatomy Lab
above: Zach Allred (left) and Mark Nielsen
I first met Mark Nielsen when I was in a high school biology class and we toured the cadaver lab at the UofU. As I watched Mark and his TAs teach us the anatomy, I was fascinated. I somewhat boldly walked up to Mark and said, “How can I become a teaching assistant here?” Mark laughed a little and said “It’s really hard and it takes a lot of study to be one of my teaching assistants.”
I started at the UofU in 1999 and immediately enrolled in his beginner anatomy class. Words cannot describe how his lectures opened up my mind to a whole new world of anatomy. I did well enough in his class to become one of his teaching assistants. I took his advanced anatomy, embryology, anatomy colloquium and dissection classes as well. My passion for anatomy was kindled by Mark.
I took every opportunity to gain as much knowledge from him as possible. I purchased every anatomy book he recommended and read them voraciously. I was able to get accepted at A.T. Still University of Osteopathic Medicine and found that with the foundation Mark had given me, I was top in my class for all anatomy courses. At A.T. Still I was asked to stay on for a year and teach anatomy, neuroanatomy, embryology and histology. This was a dream come true for me.
During the last few years of medical school I was offered residency spots in several different surgical fields as they enjoyed my anatomy background in the OR. Ultimately, however, I was impressed to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation. A physician who was interviewing me looked at my anatomy background and said, “I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to ask you to draw the brachial plexus for me.” I did this with ease, and after he asked me several other anatomy-based questions, he was convinced that I would be a great fit for his program.
I saw this time and time again in interviews; my anatomy skills and experience were what got me onto the path I wanted. During my time in residency I developed a new anatomy and neuroanatomy curriculum for the program which they still use, and I was named for a teaching scholarship at the program. After my residency, I started my first job in 2013 as a physician at Utah Valley Hospital and was named as the medical director for Utah Valley Neurotrauma Rehabilitation Unit in 2018.
Mark Nielsen is the person who inspired me more than any other to become the person I am today. His passion for anatomy is unmatched. I remember one day in his advanced anatomy class he was showing us the topography of the spinal cord tracks as they represent the muscles arms and legs. As an object lesson, he put himself in a very awkward position to show us the positions of the muscles as they are found in the spinal cord. He almost fell off the desk.
Another time in an anatomy colloquium course we were learning about surface anatomy. Mark said, “Alright you guys, let’s take off our shirts and get ready to learn surface anatomy!” He then took off his shirt and started doing pushups in front of all of us. Physiology professor David Temme was with us and took off his shirt as well and started doing pushups too. They both kept going until I think David gave up.
Mark said, ‘Alright you guys, let’s take off our shirts and get ready to learn surface anatomy!’ He then took off his shirt and started doing pushups in front of all of us. Physiology professor David Temme was with us and took off his shirt as well and started doing pushups too. They both kept going until I think David gave up.
Whenever I would come to Mark’s office to ask a question, he wouldn’t just help me understand the material, he would fascinate me with all the wonders involved in my question. I remember he put up a picture of several different vertebrate embryos which all looked about the same and asked me to pick out the human embryo. I could not. This lesson opened my mind to the wonders of vertebrate embryology that I had never known before. Because of the foundation given me by Mark I have learned and still learn so many new and wonderful insights into anatomy.
Mark has invited me over the past several years, since I’ve been working in Provo, to lecture at his anatomy colloquium. It has been a privilege and great honor to do this. I get to give a little bit back to this wonderful man who inspired me in so many ways. I love seeing the wonder in those students’ eyes, the same wonder I had when I was there so many years ago.
It is with great pride that I stand up and support Mark for all of his accomplishments, wisdom and guidance that he has given me and so many others.
Dr. Zach Allred is the Medical Director of Utah Valley Neurotrauma Rehabilitation in Provo. He graduated from the University of Utah in 2004 with a bachelor’s in Exercise & Sport Science.
You can celebrate the legacy of anatomy professor Mark Nielsen who retired from teaching in June 2022 by donating to the Mark T. Nielsen Endowed Scholarship in Anatomy here.
Have your own memory of Mark Nielsen and the Anatomy lab? Share it with us on the SBS Anatomy Alumni Page.