Did you know that UW-Platteville has a cadaver lab in Russell Hall? As part of the new Boebel Hall remodeling, the lab will move to Boebel and will include a dedicated space to work in and separated workspaces for each lab station, according to Dr. Rich Dhyanchand. But how did we wind up with a cadaver lab here in the first place?
UW-Platteville prides itself on offering students the opportunity to learn through hands-on experiences. In the spring of 2003, this was brought to a new level for many pre-med and biology students with the opening of UW-Platteville’s Cadaver Lab.
At its opening, the lab featured four cadavers (one female and three males). According to Dean Wayne Weber of the College of BILSA, each cadaver was stored in its own immersion tank. The space also included an x-ray illuminator wall to view x-rays, four full-sized skeletons, several skulls and various equipment for dissection.
Today, the Cadaver Lab features six bodies at a time. The uncut bodies are received from the UW-Madison Anatomy Department, which carries out the embalming process. This process, Weber explained, includes flushing out the fluid and replacing it with a mixture which allows for the cadavers to be stored without the need for refrigeration. After keeping the body for about four years, it is sent back to Madison where it is cremated and returned to the deceased’s family.
Dean Weber was instrumental in bringing this hands-on space to UW-Platteville. After being highly involved with the cadaver lab at Colorado State University during his undergraduate and graduate years, Weber says that he knew the value of this type of experience for students and the unique lessons that could be learned by those who use it. The project began in 2002 when Dean Weber involved students in a technical writing course to help him apply for the proposed project.
Dr. Dhyanchand, a medical doctor by training, oversees activities in the cadaver lab. In particular, for the past nine years, he has used the lab space to teach his Human Gross Anatomy course, which is targeted towards seniors planning to enter the health care field.
Dhyanchand emphasized the importance of this space in providing a hands-on experience for his students. “It is one thing to see the material in the books,” he explained, “but another to see the variation and diversity of the actual bodies.”
He explained how the use of bodies in his course is unique. There is no “hand holding,” as he described it. Instead, he gives his students the tools they need and lets them work through it themselves. He emphasized that exploration and building self-confidence is just as important as the course material. Dean Weber also found that utilizing this space to encourage students to help teach each other provided an even better experience for all involved. Former students help mentor and teach current students to develop their leadership skills while also strengthening their ability and confidence in the material. The current students then also get the benefit of learning from a peer who was once in the same shoes as them.
One of Dean Weber’s goals for this space was for students to feel prepared when they graduate and move on to graduate school.
“Computer programs will never be the same [as experiencing it hands on],” Weber explained.
Dr. Dhyanchand explained that students who use this space through his course are not only better prepared for the next steps in their journey but; also more confident in their interests and what future path they want to take. Dr. Dhyanchand mentioned that he has stayed in touch with many of his former students who have expressed that their experiences in the Cadaver Lab have benefited them greatly and placed them ahead of many of their classmates in graduate school. He thrives on watching his students grow throughout the course of the semester and loves seeing the strength and self-confidence that develops as a result of their experiences in his course.
UW-Platteville junior Alistair Polkinghorn was a student in Dr. Dhyanchand’s course. Polkinghorn explained that during the course, much of the interactions with the bodies involved identifying and locating structures or recalling relevant information about the structures in question.
“The cadavers represent an incredible opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the human body in a way that books, images and videos cannot do alone. Textbooks show the model human as having easily distinguishable internal structures that represent the common individual. Cadavers, however, have no such convictions about where exactly those anatomical structures should be located” said Dhyanchand.
Polkinghorn added that despite what people might imagine a room full of students looking at cadavers might look like, “the reality of the course couldn’t be more different.” Students collaborate to help each other learn the material that will be on exams while also becoming “…increasingly comfortable with studying on the bodies as time progresses.”
UW-Platteville alum and first-year medical student at UW-Madison Cole McDonald also took the course during his junior year here at UW-Platteville.
In addition to taking the course, McDonald became a “Gross Friend” which he explained is “…basically a TA [teacher’s assistant] for the class.”
One of his favorite parts of using the Cadaver Lab was when he got to give high school tours and “…give high school students an experience that they will probably remember for a long time.”
McDonald explained that his experience helped him prepare for medical school because the Gross Anatomy course meant teaching himself by practing. “This really prepared me going into medical school because a lot of learning must be done outside of class.”
McDonald added that he feels that although UW-Platteville is not known for its biology program, it truly seems like a “diamond in the rough because we are able to spend so much time with our professors and get great experiences like the cadaver lab… I always felt like our professors truly cared about our futures.”
In the spring, the Cadaver Lab is used as an outreach tool. Local high schools are invited to tour and experience the space as seen fit for their science courses. Dr. Dhyanchand’s former Human Gross Anatomy students help to run the tours. This allows his students even more experience explaining the process and also helps to further develop their confidence in the material and leadership skills.
Dr. Dhyanchand also mentioned that he can make time for on-campus tours upon request.
One problem with having the lab in Russell Hall was that it had to be portable. Dhyanchand explained that the move to Boebel will make it much easier for him to allow students from his other courses to also view the cadavers since it is “frowned upon to roll bodies across campus.”
He also said that this space will allow the cadavers to be more accessible for tours and demonstrations for prospective students. This new space will also support a new partnership with the UW-Madison graduate Master of Physician’s Assistant program. During the summer, graduate students from this program will use this new space on the UW-Platteville campus.
Dr. Dhyanchand hopes that this new space and partnership will begin to positively change the attitude about our healthcare program here at UW-Platteville by better supporting our students and giving our program further credibility.