For most people, working with dead bodies can be grim work.
For medical students at Newman University and the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, however, working with cadavers provides them a unique opportunity to study anatomy in a way textbooks cannot, said Newman biology professor Susan Orsbon.
Newman’s cadaver lab, overseen by Orsbon, is home to four cadavers each year, mainly used for Introduction to Anatomy courses, Orsbon said.
Newman students technically do not dissect any of the cadavers, Orsbon said, as dissection labs are no longer a requirement for Newman’s allied health curriculum.
“We simply use the cadavers for identification of structures, and we use models for everything else,” Orsbon said. “In the past three years we’ve not really been able to offer an advanced dissection course. It filled a need for the occupational therapy program, but we no longer have OT.”
Now first-year KU medical students are the primary users of the lab. The cooperation between the two schools is a fairly recent venture, said Dennis Valenzeno, associate dean and chair of medical sciences at KU School of Medicine-Wichita.
When the campus expanded three years ago, Valenzeno said it decided to partner with Newman partly because its students could get more individual time working with the cadavers.
“As much as possible, we try to cooperate with other institutions in the community, so we don’t have to re-create the wheel,” Valenzeno said. “We wanted to offer the anatomy experience without going to the expense of building a lab, and Newman had availability.”
Since then, about 28 KU med students come to Newman per year to study in the lab; their time in the lab starts in January of their freshman year and goes through December. Students use it about 20 to 30 times during the year, Valenzeno said.
“It’s important for physicians to understand anatomic relationships, and this is a place to experience it firsthand,” Valenzeno said. “By doing the cadaver dissection, they are better able to appreciate the complexities of the body.”
Valenzeno said such labs may become obsolete with the advent of three-dimensional computer models of cadavers; however, he said he believes a physical cadaver lab will always be useful.
“We now have a lot of new technology that are causing a lot of people to question and evaluate how we study anatomy,” Valenzeno said. “We have software programs and we’re using all those means, but cadaver dissection is still an important part of a medical student’s first year.”
Valenzeno said he appreciates the cooperation with Newman, and hopes to continue working with the school.
“We really appreciate their willingness to accommodate us,” Valenzeno said. “Dr. Noreen Carrocci is an important connection for us.”
While her lab is used by plenty of KU med and Newman students, Orsbon scoffs at the notion that it is “advanced.”
“Who told you that one?” she said. “It’s a nice lab, don’t get me wrong. Most cadaver labs don’t have windows. This is a real plus.”
Newman freshman biology major Blair Benton is Orsbon’s assistant in the cadaver lab.
Her main job is to help answer students’ questions in the lab, though she admits most of the medical students’ questions are “way over (her) head.”
“I learn a lot from them every day I’m in there, even though I’ve seen the dissections before,” Benton said.
Though people’s imaginations often roam free when talking about cadavers, Benton said the lab is a serious place. She said the bodies are well-respected, as Orsbon “does a good job of acknowledging that it’s an actual person, and not just a body.”
“A lot of people forget it really does have a lot of applications outside of just cutting into a body with a scalpel,” Benton said. “It’s building connections between what they’re hearing in lecture and what they’re doing in lab. They can see it in practice.”