Human Anatomy Cadaver Lab

May 26, 2023

At Briar Cliff University, undergraduate and graduate students in prospective fields of study get the unique privilege of working in one of the region’s only educational cadaver labs. A cadaver is a deceased human body donated to scientific research, allowing students to learn and see human anatomy in ways that the textbook cannot show. This lab gives an eye-opening, real-life advantage that enhance many health science undergraduate and graduate programs offered here at Briar Cliff.

A large obstacle for new medical students is training in a cadaver lab so providing this experience before furthering their education gives them a head start. Stevens, assistant professor in the physical therapy department at Briar Cliff, says her students who are planning on becoming doctors, physician assistants, occupational therapists, or physical therapists get the opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom and see it first hand through dissections.

This gives students a “mini med school” experience before transitioning into professional school. Working for the Sanford School of Medicine, Stevens has proudly modeled their program to better prepare students at Briar Cliff for that type of experience.

Sophie Kramper, a senior majoring in exercise physiology, said the experience is like being in graduate school.

Abbie Ericson, a senior majoring in physical therapy, said the class has been different from any other she has taken. “It’s more hands on and more applied towards graduate programs … It's harder than the other classes I have had, but way more interesting."  

While the opportunity to learn with cadavers is unique and rare at the undergraduate level, it is even more uncommon to perform or witness dissections. At Briar Cliff, the undergraduates help graduate students learn by conducting special dissections throughout the school year to look at clinically relevant parts of the body. Then, Doctor of Physical Therapy students get to utilize the same donors in the summer. “So, when the DPTs come in the summer, they can see pathologies like arthritis or maybe knee surgery,” Stevens said.

There are also so many opportunities for students who are interested but are not taking the classes. A new anatomy interest group makes it possible for people around campus to be invited to special dissections. During Health & Science visit days, High School students who are interested in the Health & Science Undergraduate Programs tour the lab, getting to see first-hand the advantages the Cadaver Lab and other resources Briar Cliff offers. 

Video: Casey Zoss on the many science programs & resources here at Briar Cliff University.

A cadaver is more than an important learning tool, the value of the cadaver to education requires a sense of appreciation and respect to the donor. Stevens says Briar Cliff ensures this by doing a donor memorial service once a year, at the beginning of the semester so students are intentional about how they pay respect to an individual who donated their body to future healthcare education. 

"During this event, our students share reflections on how their education was impacted by the donors and express their gratitude towards the donors and their families," says Kelsey Stevens, Briar Cliff University Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy. "In addition to written reflections, some of the students will express their gratitude through other means such as poetry and artwork."

Since the 1980's, BCU students have had the incredible opportunity to prepare for the medical field in the Cadaver lab and the programs that are able to learn and experience the lab is only growing. The new Occupational Therapy Program will also utilize the cadaver lab. But most importantly, "it is amazing to see students who want to help people and change lives," Stevens said.

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