PA program dedicates its cadavers

October 11, 2011 | Leave a Comment


BUIES CREEK - They once loved and were loved. They laughed, they cried … felt joy and felt pain.

They lived lives that will never be known to the 34 students of Campbell University’s Physician Assistant program, but their decision to donate themselves to help educate future health care professionals hasn’t gone unappreciated.

Faculty and students of the PA program gathered Monday in the Carrie Rich Building for a dedication ceremony for the school’s two plastinated cadavers -- bodies that have been preserved to allow the students to study anatomy and other subjects that require contact with human organs and bones.

The ceremony paid tribute to the two anonymous donors -- a man and woman who have been dubbed “Fred” and “Wilma” by the program’s inaugural class -- with words of appreciation, an explanation of the donor process and even poetry. According to program Chairman Tom Colletti, the purpose of the ceremony was to show respect for the donors and to remind students to retain that respect throughout their stay at Campbell and into their careers.

“These were living bodies with minds and souls,” Colletti said. “Please keep this in mind when you’re working with them.”

Assistant professor Claudia Williams said working with a cadaver is a rite of passage for all medical students, some of whom find it a difficult experience at first.

“In many ways, they are your first patients and your unlikely teachers,” Williams said. “Many (students) forget the names of their professors, but they will never forget their first cadaver.”

While some schools continue to use recently deceased donors or rely solely on computer software to learn anatomy and surgical skills, Campbell University is one of a growing number of schools to use plastinated cadavers, which can last decades instead of months.

Colletti said Campbell’s two donors can be used up to 15 years because of the plastination process, which replaces water and fat with plastics, meaning the cadavers can be touched without sustaining damage, do not smell or decay and even retain most of their properties.

The plastination process, which gained popularity in the 1990s, has received worldwide recognition from the Body Worlds exhibit, which features cadavers in a series of poses and travels to museums throughout the world.

Campbell’s Physician Assistant program began in August with 34 students enrolled in the 28-month program. The charter class will be prepared to meet a big need in the U.S. health care industry as experts predict a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020.


Story by Billy Liggett, assistant director for publications