pa school cadaver lab

The cadaver lab was a great experience

Today we were invited by the MD med students to tour the cadaver lab and see their completed dissections.

It’s a strange topic for me.

I had anatomy before beginning PA school, and my PA training class studies it constantly.  But as my pal,  Sundance, puts it, it’s the “applied” kind.   Our program has no anatomy lab class;  the program assumes you’ve had enough anatomy on entry to the program, and plenty of clinical experience to fill it out as well.  It’s something I sometimes wish for, but so far more because it looks like fun, than because I think dissecting the iliohypogastric nerve myself will serve me greatly in primary care (no, it definitely couldn’t hurt).  But instead of cadaver time, we learn anatomy in the context of our medicine courses, and there is plenty of it.

The med students were wonderful.  Their lab is a large and modern, with the latest equipment (the photos in this post are not the UCD lab, which is much bigger and better equipped).  There, we toured 16 cadaver stations, each featuring one or two students sharing the area of focus for that dissection. They were reviewing for their exams, so they were only too glad to give us  run-downs of what we were seeing.  If there was something we wanted to see and they could locate it, they were only too happy to show us.

I saw a few things I hadn’t seen when I took anatomy.  For example, my course didn’t dissect the pharynx.   I’m proud to report that I felt very competent throughout and could definitely hold my own. Sure, I didn’t know as many details as the med students, but I knew plenty, and at times my fellow PA  students and I were able to offer up some “clinical correlates” about what we were seeing.  Several times the med students admitted that we were teaching them things (they won’t do physical exam of real patients for another year).  But it wasn’t about competition.  It was a collegial sharing of medicine, and m y appreciation for their knowledge and detail was complete.   Just as well, too, since someday soon we’ll be working closely with these folks.

Proper dissection takes many hours of teamwork

Proper dissection takes many hours of teamwork

To my surprise, the experience took them off of the pedestal I once saw them on.  They weren’t any different from me: loving the chance to learn everything they can, proud to be in the

field, human–fallible even–and friendly.

There’s a humility you have to develop to work effectively in medicine.  Sure, there are people who don’t, or who slather over it with bravado.  But the culture of it — for MDs and PAs alike — is that if you do it right, there’s so much that there that you’ll never learn it all.

But damn, it’s fun to try.



We were notified that we may be returning to the lab next year for  supplemental lessons, possibly including suturing practice on cadavers – something medical students don’t get to do (they practice on pig feet).