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Cadaver Lab Provides Unique Learning Environment

Posted Jul. 22, 2010

The newly opened Robert S. Morrison Health and Science Building at Kent State University at Ashtabula features plenty of unique learning spaces for students in nursing and other health care profession degree programs. It also houses the only cadaver lab between Erie and Cleveland. The lab is the only one of its kind within the Kent State University system.

Kent State Ashtabula Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Susan Stocker says the cadaver lab provides a tremendous learning experience for students and raises the level of education the campus is able to provide. “The inclusion of the cadaver lab reflects our commitment to our students,” Stocker says. “It was a major investment from the special considerations related to designing and constructing the space to the ongoing operation of the lab.”

Physical Therapist Assistant Technology Program Director Mike Blake saw the benefit of teaching anatomy with cadavers. Blake says that instead of feeling plastic and metal, students get to experience real flesh and bone. “It’s the difference between pointing to an anatomically correct mannequin versus touching and experiencing the real thing,” he says.

It was Blake who approached the dean with the idea of a cadaver lab in the new building. In his proposal he stated that, “This anatomy cadaver lab will elevate the learning for all of our anatomy students.”

Students enrolled in health care profession degrees on the campus will use the lab during the required anatomy course.

According to Department of Biological Sciences instructor Michael Brennan, learning has been enhanced due to the lab’s availability. “The cadavers bring another level of understanding of the anatomy,” Brennan says.

“Plastic mannequins show some things well, but not others, so they are not entirely accurate,” Brennan adds. He feels that using human cadavers rather than plastic models is important. “Students get to look at real positioning and the texture of the muscles, bones and tendons.”

Physical Therapy Assistant Technology Program student Megan Suchala feels the cadavers are very helpful in the learning process. “When it comes to location of a muscle or tendon, you get the real picture,” Suchala says, adding “More specifically, you actually get to see the real thing.”

When Blake approached the dean during the design process with his proposal to include the lab, he was able to list many advantages. Similar labs at other universities have been shown to increase student interest and performance. Students who gain this experience demonstrate clinical skills superior to those who do not.

In addition, Kent State Ashtabula is now able to offer continuing education classes it had not been able to previously.

Once approval for the project was obtained, there was more research to be done. “We researched laws, regulations, policies and procedures. We especially needed to learn about air-handling equipment,” Blake says.

The cadaver lab needs to have adequate air replacement. The system replaces air in the room 10 to 12 times per hour. Two stainless steel ventilated dissection tables connect to a wall ventilation pipe that also draws room air through the table itself so fumes do not spread into the room when the cadaver is open and being worked on.

“It is a resource-intensive learning space, but well worth it when you consider the advantage it gives our students,” Stocker adds.

The cadavers come from the body donation program at Wright State University. There is one of each gender currently available for student use. Cadavers will typically remain in a laboratory setting for up to two years. The replacement schedule depends on how much work is done on the body, but most importantly, on how well the body reacts to the preservatives used.

The faculty at Kent State Ashtabula prepare the bodies for use as learning tools. “It takes 40 hours of preparation to get each body ready for showing,” Blake says.

In the future, advanced-level students may assist in dissection. Students are not required to touch the cadavers, but are encouraged to do so. Students attend lab classes wearing lab coats and gloves and have the opportunity to palpate or feel all the structures that they will be tested on.

There is still one more addition to be made to the cadaver lab. Because the room will only accommodate 18 people at a time, a special camera will be installed to allow procedures to be viewed by students in two classrooms across the hall from the lab.

When it is time to exchange bodies, the cadavers are returned to the body donation center for cremation. The ashes are then returned to the families.

Students and members of the faculty plan on conducting a memorial service before the bodies are returned to the body donation center.

Blake is pleased that this opportunity is now available for his students.

“We are grateful for the gift of these bodies by those who decide to donate them to provide this valuable learning experience to our students,” he says.