On April 4, students taking the Human Anatomy and Physiology II and Anatomy and Physiology for Human Service Majors courses, taught by Dr. Alicia Wooten and Dr. Adebowale Ogunjirin, respectively, had the chance to visit Howard University’s Medical Cadaver Lab. Howard has extended this invitation to Gallaudet students for the past five years, and it has become a favorite field trip destination.

As the group of 30 students walked down the halls of the Howard University College of Medicine, they were greeted by posters and diagrams featuring the organs and other anatomical structures they had been studying throughout the semester.

Howard University staff members Dr. Lindsey Koper and Dr. Janine Ziermann gave students an introduction to the state-of-the-art Medical Cadaver Lab.The purpose of the lab is to allow medical students to practice and refine their skills on real bodies. For student visitors, such as this group from Gallaudet, it allows optional hands-on learning and provides an understanding of the kind of training medical students receive at Howard University.

It contains 44 bodies that were obtained through a donor program. Individuals who want to donate their bodies will contact Howard University prior to their passing and inform them that they would like to go forward with the process that gives the university consent to take ownership of their cadaver following their death. These bodies are stored in individual refrigerator-like containers made of metal hooked up to a ventilation system via large black tubes that circulate air and chemicals throughout the chamber to prevent body decomposition. The room is kept at a cool temperature for similar reasons. 

When individuals consent to donate their bodies to science, it comes with the understanding that their bodies will be used for educational and research purposes. Additionally, it is preferred that individuals who want to donate their bodies to Howard University’s Medical Cadaver Lab are not organ donors. Being an organ donor likely means that the cadaver will come with missing organs, which is not ideal for medical students who are learning from those bodies. 

For cadavers that are no longer needed in the lab, Howard University has the body cremated, and the ashes are returned to the donors’ family. In addition, they host an annual donor memorial service where leaders across campus will give presentations, and the donors’ families will send in videos about what donating their family members’ bodies to this program means to them.

The process that Howard University goes through to ensure cadavers are obtained ethically and maintained respectfully is critical to them, and it is something that was not lost on the students. Several students mentioned how they appreciated the emphasis that staff placed on rules such as not allowing pictures to be taken of the bodies and covering up the donors’ faces. Overall, the Howard University Cadaver Lab team does an excellent job at maintaining an environment that values respect towards the donors.

Koper and Ziermann divided students into two groups. One group of students was given the opportunity to take a look at several human organs, such as hearts, lungs, and brains. The other group looked at the bones and muscles of the human body. Once students had exhausted their questions, the groups switched stations and continued learning more about the human body. 

At these stations, students learned about different areas of each organ and anatomical structure, asking the doctors where to find each part and how to identify where each part was. Additionally, students were encouraged to touch the organs, bones, and other body parts, provided they wore gloves.

They also had the chance to examine the Cadaver Lab’s immersive life-size digital anatomy table, which uses scans of cadavers to show a 3D model of the human body, allowing students to take a closer, more in-depth look at different, medically-accurate anatomical structures. This table is highly interactive, allowing students to isolate structures and view parts of the body from different angles. 

“Maybe Gallaudet will have to get one,” Wooten said. 

Students were incredibly enthusiastic about having this immersive experience. “This field trip gave me a better understanding of what exactly is required of a medical student and what is needed for my intended career of interest,” said David Lopez, a senior Biology student. 

Lopez added that he enjoyed “actually getting a chance to see where different organs are and how all the parts connect within the human body.” Typically, in their lab class, the students will work with the organs of animals such as sheep or pigs, so this was certainly a great opportunity to see real human organs and where they are within the body.

Several students said they felt that this trip further reaffirmed their desires to pursue different fields of medicine, whether at Howard University or elsewhere. 

Ogunjirin, an alumnus of Howard University, expressed his gratitude to Howard for providing Gallaudet students with a valuable opportunity that synergizes theoretical learning and practical application.

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