Cadavers are in, virtual labs are out

Cadavers are making a comeback in medical classes, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

At Cabrillo College in Aptos, 20 students crowd around a cadaver in Robin McFarland’s anatomy class. “Virtual learning” — including 3-D digital models of the human body — “can’t replace the real experience of actually working with the real cadaver,” said Andrew Corson, the program’s director.

The skin on the torso, legs and arms has been removed to show the muscles underneath. On the hands, the skin is intact, beige from preservatives and covered with liver spots. The smell of formaldehyde permeates the lab. A couple of students slip Altoids mints under their tongues to combat the fume-induced nausea.

. . . Most of the students in McFarland’s anatomy class will go into nursing programs, so she thinks of the bodies as her students’ first patients.

The students examine two cadavers, side by side. Next to the 90-year-old who suffered from Alzheimer’s is 11-288, an 84-year-old man and longtime smoker who died of congestive heart failure. The students have spent months comparing the two bodies, understanding not just how they operated in life, but what led to the men’s deaths.

Natasha Frias, a kinesiology student, was shocked by her first cadaver. “This is what I look like on the inside?”

Students use bodies that have been donated to the University of California at San Francisco’s Willed Body Program. At the end of the semester, McFarland’s students write an essay about their experience. One wrote: “I thank everyone dead or alive who made this such a wonderful learning experience.”