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Keeping It Simple

By David Kent, LMT, NCTMB

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Hands-On Learning in the Dissection Lab

While the opportunity to perform a full body human dissection is rare, a growing number of massage therapists, acupuncturists and traditional Chinese medical practitioners, physical therapists, athletic trainers and other providers are entering the anatomy lab. Hands-on dissection engages the senses in ways that cannot be reproduced in the classroom, online, with software, textbooks, videos, DVDs, charts, models, x-rays or listening to podcasts. Graduates leave the lab with a new level of knowledge. They feel more confident to assess, educate and treat their clients. They chose to learn by dissecting because it uniquely integrates a multitude of sensory stimuli including sight, touch and sound.

Dissection allows you to see and touch the structures that form (anatomy) the human body and understand how they function (physiology). The experience fundamentally changes your understanding of human structure and refines your palpation skills. Graduates say the experience transforms their treatment style and approach.

Students dissect each layer, superficial to deep, comparing each structure, on multiple specimens of different body types and genders at the same time. Everyone in the lab has personal goals and structures they want to investigate. Interests include fascia, muscles, bones, joints, nerves, vessels, organs and how they function together. Many attendees want to examine the rotator cuff muscles, how close a surgeon gets to the spinal cord during a laminectomy, the relationship of the sciatic nerve to the piriformis muscle or how the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are part of the Achilles tendon.

human body - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Typically, the specimens have undergone a number of surgeries, some structures may have been removed, repaired or replaced. Students scrutinize the scare tissue from various surgeries. Over the decades, we have seen a wide diversity of surgical procedures including; coronary bypass and valve repairs; spinal rods, total and partial joint replacement of the knee, hip and shoulder, bunionectomies, hysterectomies, bowel resections, meniscus repairs, carpel tunnel releases, and the list goes on. Many of the specimens have been diagnosed with problems in the circulatory, respiratory, reproductive, lymphatic, digestive and/or nervous systems.

The people that donated their body into the willed donor program are just like our clients in life; they were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Their occupation was bus driver, teacher, homemaker, law enforcement officer, railroad worker, firefighter, mechanic, electrician, nurse and postal carrier. Their gift allows us to study clinical anatomy, see the variations, the effects of aging, surgeries and the results of disease. We are very grateful for the knowledge they chose to share. In respect to their exquisite souls, we begin and end each full body dissection workshop with a dedication to "Our Silent Teachers."

Donors are rejected if a contagious disease exists such as virulent herpes, hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis or some cases of senile dementia. Other conditions include crushing injuries, decomposition, severe obesity or emaciation. Most programs require the entire body so if an autopsy has been performed or organs have been donated the specimen is excluded. However, depending on the program, surgeries like coronary bypass, hip and knee joint replacement, bunionectomy, spinal fusion, laminectomy, etc. are not an issue. These donors are excellent examples for students to see and learn clinical anatomy while having a hands-on understanding of its application.

Anatomy labs are equipped with special ventilation systems that are designed to continually exchange existing air in the lab with fresh, filtrated, air multiple times an hour. Air quality is monitored.

The temperature in an anatomy lab is usually cool. Students typically wear scrubs and layer accordingly. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to offset the time standing on a hard surface.

You will be amazed how fast you refine your dissection skills. Instructors review the anatomy and correlate its clinical significance, while guiding you through the dissection. All cavities of the body are examined including the cranium, chest, abdomen and vertebral canal.

If you find textbooks and videos on human anatomy fascinating or want to return to dissection exhibits such as Body Worlds or BODIES, then you will feel comfortable in the dissection lab. I have been dissecting at the University of South Florida, College of Medicine in Tampa, Florida since 1993 and learn something new every time I enter the lab.

Performing a full body dissection is a major educational milestone and life experience. The knowledge gained is invaluable. What structures do you want to see, touch, compare and learn more about? Write your list and I look forward to seeing you soon for some hands-on learning in the dissection lab!

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