Making an impact – even after death

October 22, 2021

Three medical students examine a cadaver in the anatomy lab

Every body is different. Every body has a story. This is what Quinnipiac students learn from the university’s state-of-the-art cadaver labs. 

“It brings to life what’s in the textbook. It creates a learning experience these students will never forget,” said Deanna Proulx-Sepelak , clinical professor of occupational therapy. “Students remember every detail of each cadaver — and that’s the value of the donors who’ve passed on and are still educating with such a deep level of impact.”

The labs, which opened in 2013 when the university launched its Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, are Connecticut’s newest and most technologically advanced human anatomy facilities.

The labs consist of 42 donors, each with various medical histories.

“The donors are the best teachers because they give beyond their lives,” Proulx-Sepelak said. “After life, they’re continuing to add to the educational value of students.”

Undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, School of Nursing utilize the lab. Each of the students look at the same donors, but from different perspectives.

Students in the School of Medicine study the bodies for medical purposes, pathology students look for causes of death and occupational therapy and physical therapy students look at the musculoskeletal and movement, Proulx-Sepelak said.

“It is an incredible interprofessional education opportunity,” she said. “We have students of all different disciplines working in there from differing perspectives, but with the same use of the anatomical donor. We bring each of our different expertise to that lab.”

Students are prepared through training by faculty and lectures before working in the lab. Faculty make sure students are partnered to support one another.

“It is a multi-sensory experience, so it can get emotionally overwhelming,” Proulx-Sepelak said. “The students who need typically more support or those who have experienced a recent loss in their own lives, usually need us to walk them through a bit more slowly and we do that. We have to give people time to acclimate at their own pace and we have to give them the support in order to do that.”

After every semester, Quinnipiac provides a Ceremony of Gratitude toward the families of the donors.

Students will present music, gifts, art or any token of gratitude in honor of the donors and how they transformed the education of students and their understanding of the human body.

Teaching and learning human anatomy virtually made the appreciation of the lab even greater from the students and faculty.

“We are incredibly lucky to have such an incredible learning space at our fingertips,” Proulx-Sepelak said. “Our students in the health professions are stronger because of that experience and learning at that level of depth and using real anatomical donors.”

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