Students in the Exercise Science and Physiology and Developmental Biology programs at BYU graduate with an experience that many other universities do not offer—the opportunity to study real cadavers in two different anatomy labs.
The 800-plus students taking PDBio 220 (Human Anatomy) each year spend two hours a week at the anatomy lab in the Widtsoe Building on campus in addition to the two hours of lecture they receive. Each section is supervised by one of the seventy-five teaching assistants (TAs) taking PDBio 349. The TAs themselves meet with lab coordinator Rachel Tomco, MS, for two hours a week for lab and lecture training. Rachel helps them prepare the demonstrations and quizzes they give their students.
PDBio 320 (Cadaver Dissection), which Tomco also teaches, is a group of twenty advanced students working in the Widtsoe anatomy lab that prepare the cadavers for the PDBio 220 students. They make incisions in the skin, remove fat, take out organs, and expose the blood vessels, nerves, and musculature of the bodies. Dr. David Busath, the lab’s supervisor, notes that BYU is fortunate to have a cadaver lab because “many schools have abandoned cadaver labs, especially at the undergraduate level, for computer programs because of liability and the difficulty of getting cadavers,” which must be obtained through medical schools. The department also offers a virtual lab for individuals with special needs, which uses software for the examination of the body layer by layer. However, Professor Busath sees working with actual cadavers as being “ten times more beneficial.”
Another anatomy lab is provided by the Exercise Science Program in the Smith Fieldhouse. This lab also uses cadavers, catering to advanced students in the Exercise Sciences programs. Once they have taken the PDBio 220 class in the Widtsoe lab, students in ExSc 400 (Functional Anatomy and Kinesthesiology) learn more specifically about the musculoskeletal system from the cadavers in this lab. ExSc 400 is required for the 1400 students with an Exercise Science emphasis, as well as those focusing on Athletic Training. There are thirteen open lab hours a week that students can use for extra study. Dr. Bill Myrer, the exercise sciences lab co- ordinator and one of three instructors of the class, says the emphasis the lab puts on the musculoskeletal system “puts BYU students head and shoulders above other students in their programs. Our students have had two lab experiences before they graduate. Other students have perhaps never been in a cadaver lab until they hit medical school. It sets them apart.”
Dr. Busath agrees that the labs give students a singular learning experience: “the cadaver lab is a place where the Aims of a BYU Education are strongly emphasized. The body that Heavenly Father has given us is a precious gift and the awe that it generates in the students is palpable.” Tomco also agrees that “this is one of the few places on campus where every one of the BYU Aims is met.” She adds her testimony to Dr. Busath’s: “What happens on a spiritual level in these labs just cannot be replicated. The testimonies the students grow are much more important than anything else they learn. I get to bear my testimony every moment I’m teaching here.” Considering the large fraction of BYU graduates who complete one or both courses during their stay on campus, this “faithful learning” about our Father’s greatest creation can be considered an integral part of the BYU experience.