Cadaver dissection is a right of passage for physician assistant students. As a pre-PA student, you’re either taking anatomy, plan to in the near future, or you need to brush up on the subject. Cadaver dissection is an important part of the process. If your PA school requires it, showing up with plenty of it under your belt is a great advantage. If you haven’t taken an anatomy course yet, know that one of the big challenges is getting sufficient time with the cadavers for dissection and study. Today’s Pre-PA resource of the day gives you (by video) just that – time with cadavers. Because some of you are eager to see the resource, I’ll drop the link now and you can go about your merry way. But if you’ve never seen or worked with a cadaver, please read on; there are a few things you should know before you do.
Preparing Yourself to See a Cadaver Dissection
- In case the term is new to you, cadavers are the remains of real people, preserved for the purposes of medical dissection. The body fluids are drained, and replaced with a mixture that contains formalin, which hampers bacterial breakdown.
- In all cases in the US, cadavers come only from those who chose while living to give their remains to science for the purpose of enlightening others. In short: these people wanted it this way. It’s a generous gift, and it’s worth it for you to take a minute to consider this generosity. Doing so will help you maintain a sense of reverence that can make it an even more incredible and even beautiful experience. These people wanted you to learn from their bodies – yes you!
- Though very respectful, the videos I link to here are unapologetically graphic, and for some this brings up many emotions. Revulsion, curiosity, guilt, and sadness are common reactions, along with the most common one, a mix of many emotions at once that are hard to even name. If you find these videos disturbing, understand, there will be more of it in your training, and as a PA you will be around the dying and even the dead, depending on your specialty. Most people get used to it in time, but some do not. I encourage you to open yourself up to the experience, and let it be okay to feel whatever you feel. It’s not uncommon for medical students to feel faint or even pass out when they start gross anatomy, so don’t feel bad if you have a similar reaction.
- Because this experience is via video, and not live, it may be easier for some. Formalin has a strong odor, and the closeness – the ability to touch them – makes the in-person experience much more intense. So don’t get cocky if this is no problem for you – you could be in for a surprise when you have to take a knife to a real body.
- Finally, if you ever have the chance to spend time in a morgue (the kind with unpreserved bodies), I highly recommend it. I had a friend who was a deputy coroner, and he had me come in and help him with a few autopsies (that were not part of criminal investigations, of course). The colors are much brighter and richer than with preserved bodies, and it made it feel even more real. It might be worth calling your county coroner’s office to see if they would let you come by to observe or even help. Simialry, I’ve met many medical students who worked at funeral homes as diener (pronounced dee’ ner), which gave them a great grasp of anatomy.
I hope you find this resource useful, and please let me know how your cadaver dissection goes. -P