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Class gets familiar with cadavers

BY JOHN ENGER
engerjo@mnstate.edu

Human anatomy class teaches students the inner workings of the body in the most fundamental way possible: with cadavers.
In this age of technology, dissection might seem outdated, but according to Ellen Brisch, chair of the biology department, it is as necessary as it ever was.

“Anatomy: what are the parts of the body? Are you going to learn it from a textbook?” Brisch said. “The reality is, all bodies are different and that is where … the cadaver approach is so critical.”

MSUM receives cadavers from the U of M’s Bequeathal Program every fall. There are four human anatomy labs at MSUM; each lab has four cadavers and is capped at 24 students. Human anatomy professor Bee Wisenden assigns groups of six students to each cadaver and leads them through the process of dissection.

“We just work our way through the entire muscle section because that’s the first thing you come across,” Wisenden said. “I’ll examine them part way through, see how many muscles they remember … say, you know, ‘What is this muscle?’ ‘What is it’s origin?’ ‘What is its action?’ … Then we go on to the thoracic cavity and we will do the heart and parts of the heart and parts of the lungs … and just work our way through the entire body systematically.”

The academic benefits of MSUM’s approach to human anatomy are obvious to those who have gone through the class.
“It was very strange at first,” said Anna Johnson, former MSUM student and graduate physical therapy student at UND. “But then it got exciting because it’s something I’m interested in, so being able to have, sort of, X-ray vision was very cool.”
In fact, the human anatomy class has drawn new students to MSUM.

“MSUM students have first priority, so there is always a waiting list of NDSU students,” Brisch said. “I know last year two NDSU students didn’t want to be on that waiting list so they just transferred here to MSUM so they could take Bee’s anatomy class.”
The dissection of a human body does raise some complicated issues that each student must deal with.

“Every once in a while, I will be able to see a student and I’ll know that they’re not doing well in the lab,” Wisenden said. “So I will pull then out and I will ask them and they will say, ‘I don’t know but I’m just not feeling up to this today,’ and you just say, ‘That’s fine. We all have those sorts of days.’”

The department helps to resolve those issues by maintaining the dignity of those who have donated their bodies to science. Cameras are not allowed into the labs, and the class is given very limited information about the background of the cadaver.

“We’re never given names,” Wisenden said. “We’re given sex … and age, time of death, and a very quick background of the cause of death, plus other medical ailments, but just a few, we aren’t given a lot of information.”

At the end of the semester, the cadavers are returned to the Bequeathal Program for cremation. Students are invited to a memorial service honoring the individual.

To read more from this writer,view his blog at blockplane.blogspot.com

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