A virtual cadaver table, ultrasound systems, and fresh-tissue labs are just some of the new ways that Butler Physician Assistant (PA) students are learning their craft and gaining experience in the workings of the human body.
“All three of these are really innovations in our curriculum and will help shape our understanding of the human body,” said College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Professor Jennifer Snyder, who runs the PA program.
The cadaver table, called an Anatomage, came to Butler thanks to a grant written by the University’s Information Technology department and co-funded by Dean Robert Soltis and the College. The Anatomage—think of a 7-foot-long iPad—allows users to explore 3D images of the human body, inside and out.
You can wipe away layers of skin. Remove muscle or take bone. Stand up the table or lay it flat.
“The students can see in a different dimension what they can’t get with models or a skeleton hanging on a post,” Snyder said. “It’s bringing technology to the classroom and professors can create lectures around the table to enhance learning.”
Previously, professors used plastic models to illustrate their points. “Never in the past have we been able to isolate individual systems within the body,” she said. “We could show every bone, but we couldn’t show bone, muscle, and vascular systems and how they interact together. Now we can peel away skin, peel away bone. They could never get this view from a model. It really makes it alive in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”
Snyder said the Anatomage is going to help students’ understanding of spatial relationships between parts of the body. And the technology suits today’s learners. The tables will be used in the College’s undergraduate and graduate anatomy courses.
“This really meets the students where they are,” she said. “They like technology, and if that’s what they like, they’re going to learn what they need to learn more quickly and easily.”
A standard way for medical students to learn anatomy is to look inside the body by working on cadavers. But working on embalmed, preserved bodies is different from working on fresh tissue. PA students at Butler University now go to the Medical Academic Center at the Indiana Spine Group north of Indianapolis to practice procedures on fresh tissue or cadavers that have not been embalmed.
Procedures such as suturing, lumbar punctures, intubation, and joint injections are performed.
Snyder said students may have an entire body to work on, but they also may have body parts—a back or shoulder, for instance.
“Before the students go out on rotations, before they practice on live people, they’re going to practice on a dead person,” she said. “They so appreciate getting to practice what they’ve learned without it being a live person first. We’re now taking it to where we’re applying what we’ve taught them in laboratory courses and they’re doing these procedures before they’re out suturing on you or me.”
She said this opportunity is uncommon in PA education. “You don’t see this application experience very often until you’re actually doing it for the first time. Experience counts.”
And because experience counts, Snyder said the College also has purchased four ultrasound systems that will be integrated across the PA curriculum in classes such as Anatomy and Physiology, History and Physical Examination, and Imaging.
“This is really cutting edge as far as PA education,” Snyder said. “A lot of people really learn this on the job. It hasn’t been embraced fully in PA programs across the United States. Our graduates will have a familiarity and a comfort level that students in other programs just won’t have.”