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Gordon E. Inman College of Health Sciences and Nursing students study cadavers for coursework

Belmont’s facility management services building doesn’t look interesting on the outside, but inside, it houses something unexpected: a cadaver lab.

Since 2012, physical therapy graduate students at Belmont have been supplementing their textbook lessons with up-close observation of human bodies in the university’s cadaver lab.

And this year, occupational therapy graduate students also have access to the lab, which houses 10 bodies.

First year physical therapy student Chloie Stafford said she was nervous prior to her first visit to the lab.

“I was apprehensive. I think most people would be,” she said. “I had to take a deep breath and just realize that this isn’t something that’s negative in the sense of the cadavers, you know, this is a gift to us.”

Dr. John Halle, professor of physical therapy, is a strong advocate of the lab and has led instruction there since spring.

“We, as a Nashville resource, ought to be proud of it,” Halle said. “If this resource were not something that were available here, they (students) would have looked at other programs because it is that foundational for the professions that we’re involved with here.”

The physical therapy graduate program has had access to Vanderbilt University’s labs since 1997, but changes in the medical curriculum prevented that lab’s availability. It wasn’t until last year that Belmont’s administration decided to invest in its own facility.

Though not all university physical therapy and occupational therapy programs have access to cadaver labs, both Stafford and physical therapy student TJ Odom feel that they have benefitted from their study in Belmont’s lab.

“I learn so much more, being able to see it, I mean, you see it in a book, but a book and real life are two different things,” Odom said.

Stafford agrees with Odom.

“I don’t think you can really have a true appreciation of how intrinsic and complex the human body is, until you see it face to face,” Stafford said.

Belmont’s lab currently has 10 cadavers, but there is space enough for 12.

The cadavers are part of a willed-donor program that’s run through Vanderbilt and Belmont’s lab follows the specific rules and regulations provided by the parent program.

The lab operates under very specific rules that restricts certain access.

“There can be no photographs taken in the lab,” Halle said. “Confidentiality of the cadavers needs to be respected. The respect for the bodies needs to be respected.”

Halle said that the lab provides the necessary experience of working with a physical human body, rather than only studying anatomy textbooks.

“People often say, ‘Why can’t you just look in an atlas and learn things’… an individual that is trying to learn about the human body isn’t going to have a good feel … until you sort of go through and see how that all is put together,” he said.

The lab is only open to students enrolled in certain physical therapy and occupational therapy courses like human anatomy lab and research. And even though their class time in the lab totals six hours a week, students can come back after hours for further study.

“We could go in there, so it was a great learning tool to actually be able to learn what we had to learn, do it in class, and then go and apply it there even if the professors weren’t there,” Odom said.

From Stafford’s perspective, Belmont’s physical therapy and occupational therapy students enjoy great benefits from having access to their own cadaver lab.

“I can’t imagine learning this and not seeing it,” Stafford said, “I couldn’t imagine doing PT school without it. It’s a really huge asset.”

– Mary Coggins

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