Surviving Gross Anatomy Lab

I think this is the class that marks a student’s entrance into medical school. I know for me this is the class that made me feel like I was a real medical student. Some people are pretty nervous and squeamish about cadaver lab.  I was not one of those people. I was super excited and couldn’t wait to get started! At Bastyr we are expected to wear a thick, reusable hazmat suit and ventilator mask with filters graded for formaldehyde. There’s been some unfortunate criticism of Bastyr for this policy. There’s been opinions expressed that our cadaver lab is old, outdated, not well ventilated and a definite negative to the school.  I did not find any of these rumors to be true. It’s possible that the lab might seem “old”; the building is older, but I don’t find that a negative. We have everything we need in the lab to make it useful. The ventilation is up to standard, it is approved by OSHA as having safe levels of formaldehyde exposure to medical students.  The hazmat suit and mask are required to protect the health (especially the liver) of the student.  The room has a bank of window on one side that bring in lots of natural light. Additionally, the professor that runs the lab keeps ferns growing all over the lab to make it less sterile feeling and to enhance filtration of the air. All that said, I wouldn’t spend much time in the lab without my suit and mask. I found it much easier to dissect when I didn’t need to worry about anything soaking into my clothes. The more covered you are the less likely you are to smell of formaldehyde once you leave the lab.

As far as studying for and learning gross anatomy: lectures in the theory part of gross anatomy were slightly helpful, although just studying from the competencies seemed sufficient if I couldn’t make the lecture.  The gross lab instructor held optional tutorials once a week, both outside of lab which were lecture/drawing style, and a tutorial inside the lab where we could see the parts on a prosection. I found both of these immensely helpful.  The other option provided, and highly suggested, is to go into the lab at times other than your normal lab time and go through the structures you are currently learning. I found this the least helpful, partly because during the majority of the year I was in gross lab these were only allowed at specific times and there were usually a lot of people in the lab, especially right before midterms or finals. I found it hard to concentrate with so many people walking around and talking and discussing. Often I found that I would think one thing and someone would tell me it was something else. It seems like every time that happened it would turn out with later checking that I was right and they were misleading me.  Not a big deal, but frustrating for me when I was on the right track and was convinced I was wrong.  So the lesson is trust your instincts if you think you may  be right. The other study techniques that I found most helpful were studying from Rohen’s Color Atlas of Anatomy. I would go through the pertinent pages and quiz myself based on the photos. This might not work for everyone, you have to be able to think and imagine in 3D for this to be highly successful. I found it worked quite well for me. The other techniques I used were drawing, lots and lots of drawing! You don’t have to be good at drawing, as long as it makes sense to you it’s going to help.


This is a great drawing, not mine! But something to give you inspiration.

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