The corpses serve as first patients for Touro’s medical students


Weighing just 90 pounds, the 90-year-old woman at the table has a long medical history, including multiple bone fractures, cataract removal and a hysterectomy, as well as metastasizing kidney cancer and COPD. kill him.

Facing the body, covered from head to toe with white sheet, is a medical history glued to the laboratory wall.

It is one of 40 bodies in the cadaver lab of Touro University Nevada, the only facility of its kind in Southern Nevada. There, first -year medical students learn about anatomy from corpses they consider their first patients.

At a time when anatomy is increasingly being taught using interactive touch screens and anatomical models rather than scalpels and cadavers, university leaders continue to believe in the importance of learning by dissecting actual body, the centuries -old ceremony of the passing of medicine.

Despite modern technologies, “the so-called psychomotor skill-the ability to use your hand to dissect, cut and feel-has been found to be really important to a student’s ability to learn about the body,” Drs. Wolfgang Gilliar, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at the university in Henderson. “You really learn 3D relationships by having a real corpse.”

Second-year student Pranati Shah, who used a scalpel for the first time in the lab, said cutting into actual tissue gave her a better knowledge of anatomy.

“A vein and an artery and a vein are sometimes exactly the same,” the 24-year-old said. “And so I think the hands-on here makes a big difference. When you hit a root, it’s like, ‘It’s collapsed. It’s a root.’ When you push, it’s like, ‘It’s harder. It’s a nerve. I don’t want to cut it.’ “

He said it was instructive to spot abnormalities in corpses that were far from the perfect anatomical structure laid out in textbooks. Seeing the hernia on his corpse, Shah said, “Now I will never forget what the hernia looked like in my whole life because I discovered that in my body alone.”

Third-year student Jose Parra, 26, said, “I have my cadaver in my brain. … When you go in and do these dissections, when you see that, you don’t forget. ”

Touro medical students are studying anatomy in the lab in the second semester of their first year in medical school.

Four to six students were assigned as a group to a corpse for the semester. Students can also study corpses assigned to other teams, as no two bodies are the same, students said.

Each corpse faces an individual table. Under the table are buckets, jigsaws and other tools needed for dissection. Above are video cameras. On the walls are large screens.

The temperature in the lab is a relatively cold 65 degrees, and even with the advanced air filtration system, there is very little smell of formaldehyde used to keep the bodies.

Despite the gloomy atmosphere, Shah said the lab has become the center of his academic and social life, a place where friendships flourish. Touro continued to use the lab during the pandemic by moving away desks and students.

“It’s easy to feel isolated during medical school alone, and then in COVID, too, like, how do I make friends and build a support system?” he says. “It’s crazy to think that this room did that, but it really did.”

Virtual anatomy lab

But some medical schools are moving away from traditional cadaver labs, saying they take up too much of a student’s time and a school’s resources.

But UNLV’s Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, which opened in 2017, has found a big push in its initial plan to use only advanced technologies to teach anatomy rather than a cadaver lab, Drs. Neil Haycocks, vice dean for academic affairs and education.

It changed its plans to include an eight-table lab, which Haycocks hopes will be completed this year, where teachers can show the dissection to students. The school also offers an elective dissection course for fourth-year students in a rented space for medical training.

“I think we’re getting the best of both worlds,” he said.

The amount of knowledge that medical students need to learn is increasing dramatically, he said. As a result, UNLV is now placing greater emphasis on “relevant clinical problem solving,” Haycocks said.

“We think by removing part of the dissection, which just gives students a better and more effective learning experience in general,” he said.

Roseman University of Health Sciences in Southern Nevada, which is raising funds for a medical school, has moved away from plans for a cadaver lab, Drs. Karin Esposito, the college’s medical college’s senior executive dean for academic and student affairs. It now favors the use of plasticized, pre-dissected specimens and augmented and virtual reality teaching tools, which unlike the cadaver, a student can return to repeatedly for training, he said.

“Augmented and virtual reality tools are reaching the point where they are likely to become surgical training tools soon,” he said. “In some cases, they probably already are. So surgeons can take 3D images that have the potential to reconstruct from the actual patient they’re operating on – from MRIs, etc. – and walk into their yourself through surgery. That’s how precise you are. “

Shelley Berkley, CEO and senior provost at Touro University Nevada, said advanced technologies can complement cadaver dissection but cannot replace it. The university gave a conservative estimate of $ 250,000 as the annual cost of operating the lab.

“As long as I’m in Touro, we’re going to continue to have corpses,” said Berkley, a lawyer and former Nevada congressman.

“As technology becomes more sophisticated and more usable, of course we will incorporate that technology into our training. But in the end, there is nothing like hands-on entering the body and seeing what it really looks like, ”she said. “And at this moment in time, as sophisticated as the technology has become, I still don’t think it’s a replacement for the body.”

White rose ceremony

Touro obtained its corpses from the University of North Texas. Bodies used as corpses may have been donated by individuals for scientific purposes or may not have been claimed. Touro itself does not accept body donations.

Touro, a Jewish university, will not give its students body dissections with offensive tattoos, such as those with anti-Jewish slurs or symbols, said Jeremy Day, the lab manager .

The university has instilled in its students respect for bodies, emphasizing that they are the students ’first patients, students and faculty said.

At the end of the school year, Touro teachers and students held a white rose donor appreciation ceremony described as a solemn and sometimes emotional interaction. The corpses were cremated and the ashes were returned to the University of North Texas, which in turn donates the remains to the families of the donors.

“The students really appreciated that first patient and the knowledge they gained,” Berkley said. “And because of this, when we do the white rose ceremony at the end of the year, our students are essentially grateful to their first patients for the knowledge they gained.”

Contact Mary Hynes at [email protected] or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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