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Striving to Be a DPT

The Value of Cadaver Lab in PT School

Published July 14, 2014 3:06 PM by Jocelyn Wallace

One of my courses this semester has been cadaver lab. My school uses a unique format where a group of medical and dental students lead the lab on cadavers that they've dissected. Outside of lab hours, we have full access to the lab to study the bodies. With two weeks of this class left, I've been reflecting on the value of my cadaveric education.

Many of the schools I considered did not have cadaver labs and just as many had cadaver labs where the PT students do full dissections. I think my school found a great balance and I'm definitely glad I had the experience. At first, I was nervous but wound up really loving it. So much so that I hope I have another opportunity to study cadavers in the future!

Why did I enjoy cadaver lab so much? First of all, it was incredibly eye-opening to see how fragile the human body is. Nerves that are critical to major functions, for example, are tiny ribbon-like strips that could be easily obliterated by a simple injury or laceration. This has given me a major appreciation for the delicateness of the human body.

Despite the overall simplicity of many structures, I've also gained an appreciation for the extreme complexity of the human animal. We have learned hundreds of structures, actions and innervations but only scratched the surface. Everything in there has a name and a purpose.

In sum, I'm very glad I've had the opportunity to participate in a cadaver lab. During my last 2-week unit of Head & Neck, I'll be sure to soak up all the knowledge that I can. As far as my career as a physical therapist, I will make an effort to look back on the things I learned about the human body. Our professors have emphasized that "anatomy is an average," and I'll take that lesson to practice by considering each and every patient as the unique people they are.

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Hey Jocelyn,

I enjoyed reading about your thoughts on your cadaver lab.  Gross anatomy is one of the first classes we took during our first summer semester.  It is very interesting to see all the inner workings of the human body and like you found, not everyone is exactly the same.  I'm sure working with dental and medical students was a great learning opportunity.  It is always neat to see just how connected the divisions of the medical field become.  Thanks!

Morgan Haskins, physical therapy - student January 25, 2015 3:24 PM

Hi Denise,

You may also be pleased to hear that we had 40+ cadavers and a room full of prosections, x-rays and other learning tools. I have no other experience with cadaver labs but it seems like my school is doing a great job teaching us the breadth of human variation.

Thank you for reading!

Jocelyn Wallace July 15, 2014 2:26 PM


I definitely cannot imagine these past few weeks with a virtual anatomy lab. My undergraduate anatomy course was virtual and did not come close to simulating the real experience despite being a very strong program.

I certainly should have mentioned the gratefulness I have to all of those I was lucky enough to learn from. Despite many horror stories, all of my classmates have been beyond respectful and I would urge anyone considering giving their bodies to scientific education to do so. We absolutely learned things we couldn't have otherwise.

Jocelyn Wallace July 15, 2014 2:23 PM

I'm so pleaded to read your post and your appreciation for this opportunity. I'm an "old school" PT and also valued my time in cadaver lab. For nearly two decades people have talked about doing away with this valuable learning experience in exchange for virtual dissection. I believe there is no substitute for seeing and feeling the human body in 3D in establishing the awareness of form and function that you describe. If you can appreciate this, you have mastered the very beginning of what it takes to be an artful clinician.

Just curious, any nods to the generous souls who gave their bodies for your education?

Dean Metz, , Falls specialist physio NHS July 14, 2014 6:04 PM
South Tyneside, UK

I still remember my anatomy lab on campus, in 1974 ;)  It served me well, gave me great respect for how wonderfully and fearfully made we are, that none of the cadavers were perfect, all had anomalies, some had missing organs, etc. It is amazing we function as well as we do. I'm grateful I had the chance to participate and learn in a cadaver lab of at least 10 cadavers. We shared the lab with PE majors (back in my time it was a bachelor degree for PT) Glad to read that is still done in many (wish it were all) PT schools.

denise, Staff Physical Therapist July 14, 2014 5:00 PM
Tulsa OK

A very good post. I'm afraid I would have been a little unnerved by this kind of lab. It sounds like you handled it well!

Mary King, writer July 14, 2014 4:41 PM
Milton FL

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