Before you freak out and call the police, or even question transferring schools, understand that these "dead bodies" are not victims to an unsolved murder case; instead they're cadavers used by students in Human and Gross Anatomy. Coulter Science Center, third floor, room 345 is the temporary home of a different John and Jane Doe every year for ten months. It’s not a morgue or a transitory burial place, it’s a rare opportunity that started as a small independent study in the Fall of 2005 and has flourished into a program popular among pre-med, biology, and psychology students at Westminster. John and Jane Doe are strictly medical tools that have essentially aided my college education to the extreme!
As a freshman enrolled in a non-major biology course, my decision to change my major from Education to Biology happened in an instant when Dr. Mike Amspoker took the class up to the cadaver lab. Standing there in front of a dead body on a table, with a human heart in my hands might make you turn the other way, but is easily one of my favorite experiences at Westminster. I mean come on, how many people can actually say they've held a real human heart? I stood in awe as the lab TA described blood flow through the body, showed us the black spots on the lungs from second-hand smoking, and even passed around the brain. I looked around the room as mouths dropped, faces cringed, and people turned green and yet I wanted nothing more than to stay longer and learn more. And so I did. Dr. Amspoker jumped at the opportunity to invite me into the biology department and just like that I changed my major and never looked back.
My career path had taken a new turn and that one experience is what has brought me to where I am today - a student in Human Anatomy that's once again felt the thrill of holding a human heart, that's followed a tendon from the leg to the foot and into the toes, that's cut a feeding tube from the stomach of a 50 year old man, and that's over and over again worn scrubs that reek of formaldehyde. Ask me if I like it and I'd tell you that I LOVE it! And better yet, this fall I get to be one of five students in Gross Anatomy who works to dissect and assess the health of our own individual donor to present our findings at a medical conference in the spring.
The cadaver program at Westminster is one of which is rarely found at other colleges, especially ones of a size equivalent to ours. And here we get two donors per year! On behalf of all students that have had the opportunity to be part of the cadaver program, a special thanks goes out to Dr. Bruce Brookby, Mr. Hal Oakley, Dr. April Potterfield, and Dr. Mike Amspoker for initiating and sustaining the success of such an outstanding and popular program on our campus! It is also important to note that in respect and appreciation for John and Jane Doe and their donation to our program, a memorial service is held in the church on campus for both cadavers at the end of this school year. All students in Human and Gross Anatomy attend the service.
The opportunities at Westminster have already proven to be endless, and the cadaver program is just one of many examples. So who knows…maybe you could be that next kid sitting in class on a Thursday at 8:00am waiting for his future to take a whole new turn...?
Learn more about the biology major and the cadaver program at Westminster.