A Look Inside GCU’s Cadaver Lab

By Suzanne Currey

Image of anatomy

Content warning: detailed descriptions of cadavers are included in this blog.

Grand Canyon University offers a multitude of grand opportunities for both students and prospective students. One example in particular has to do with the fact that GCU is one of the few undergraduate colleges that allow students to get hands-on experience with cadavers.

A cadaver is a deceased human body that is used for studying anatomy, analyzing pathologies and practicing medical procedures. Before the individual passes away, they can enroll in a donor program to give their body to science. Oftentimes, their funeral costs are funded and the family does not need to worry about anything postmortem.

Here at GCU, every part removed from the cadaver (such as the skin, adipose, etc.) goes into a labeled biohazard bag. This bag is then stored while the dissected cadaver is used to teach. Once the cadaver has been here for about three years, the body and biohazard bags are transported to be cremated. From there, the remains will go back to the family. Each cadaver comes with the age and cause of death. First or second-year biology students at GCU are taught using cadavers when taking their anatomy lab. By the time a student is finished with their full year of anatomy, they should be able to identify muscles, organs and other structures on the cadaver. In fact, the lab exams actually involve identifying structures on the cadaver without a word bank (with correct spelling!).

As GCU students, we are truly blessed to have such a hands-on experience. It will not only give us an advantage in graduate school, but it makes us more competitive applicants. It is exceptionally rare that undergraduate students applying to medical school are able to learn on cadavers, let alone dissect them. With that being said, a biology student can potentially begin dissecting and working with the cadavers their freshman year at GCU. Keep in mind, this usually does not happen until freshman year of graduate school. The cadaver dissection is considered to be one of GCU’s many Research and Design Programs. Students are responsible for everything from removing skin to opening the chest cavity.

Students dedicated to becoming future healthcare professionals (physicians, physician assistants, etc.) can join the Mastering Anatomy Program, known around campus as MAP. By the time a MAP student graduates, they will have dissected a whole cadaver, including both upper and lower extremities, thoracic and abdominal cavity, and head and neck. They are also responsible for taking tests similar to the level of medical school and board exams to ensure an exceptional understanding of the regions. At this time, current MAP students are working on publishing a GCU Anatomy Atlas for anatomy students to use. Not only is this helpful for future students, the MAP individuals will get to discuss their published work on graduate school applications.

Grand Canyon University usually has between fifteen to twenty cadavers on campus. There are four anatomy labs with two to three cadavers in each. There is a maximum of twenty-four students in each anatomy lab class which ensures students get to spend ample time with the cadavers. There are two bodies in the “Explore More” lab, which allows students to study the cadavers before lab exams. There is one cadaver placed in the HAWS lab which is where prospective students have the opportunity to take a tour. In the HAWS lab, high school students are able to learn on a cadaver and various organs harvested from them. The other cadavers are found in the dissection lab being worked on.

I have always wanted to go into the medical field as the human body has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. When I was a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to come to GCU and tour the cadaver lab. It was unlike anything I had ever seen– or smelled for that matter (embalming chemicals come with quite a unique smell). From that point on, I knew Grand Canyon University was the school for me. Anatomy lab has been one of my favorite classes, getting to not only see, but feel the anatomy and pathologies. For example, one of the first cadavers I saw had a baseball-sized uterine tumor. How many undergraduate sophomores have gotten to see and feel a real tumor?

Learning on the cadavers truly gives you a new appreciation for what the human body is capable of. I joined the Dissection Research team my sophomore year, and since then I have completed three lower extremity and one upper extremity dissection. I am currently assigned to abdomen and thoracic. Not only have I had some of the best experiences in lab but I have met some lifelong friends. As well as being part of dissection, I am one of the tour guides for the HAWS lab. If you are interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, I highly recommend you come check out the cadaver lab. I would love to see you there!

More about Suzanne Currey:

Suzanne Currey is a senior at GCU. She is an honors student majoring in biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine. She has the hopes of one day becoming a physician and will be applying to medical school in the upcoming cycle. She absolutely loves being able to give high schoolers the unforgettable experience of seeing and learning using a human cadaver. From teaching them about bypass surgery to getting rid of hiccups, she makes it quite the experience! When she is not in class, dissection, or working in the HAWS lab, you can find her volunteering in the emergency department of a level-one trauma hospital. Grand Canyon University has given her some of the best experiences of her life, and she is very grateful to be a Lope.

To learn more about degree programs in Grand Canyon University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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