UCSF's Anatomy Learning Center undergoes big renovation

November 30, 2012 7:51:07 PM PST
For many people, the image of studying cadavers is the stuff of television shows like "Grey's Anatomy," but for medical student's it's a critical part of their training. And that experience has now taken a leap into the future, thanks to a multi-million dollar project at UCSF Medical School.

Gazing out the window of UCSF's Anatomy Learning Center offers million dollar views for anyone with the time to enjoy them.

"We can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the beach, almost all the way down to Downtown and on days like this when it is sunny, it is absolutely gorgeous," said Dora Friedman, a UCSF medical student.

But most of the time, medical students like Friedman have their sites focused on the innermost reaches of the human body, absorbing the patterns of our complicated anatomy, and unraveling any surprises tucked inside.

"When we were opening up a thoracic cavity of a cadaver and we found this large organ and it wasn't the lungs and it wasn't the heart. I really had to question myself because I didn't know what any other large organ in the thoracic cavity. It turned out to be the stomach and the stomach had actually herniated," said Friedman.

In this newly remodeled lab, 21st Century tools help students share that journey of discovery as they're experiencing it. Movable cameras can project images from individual tables to 72 inch monitors, or beam them to the personal iPads that now double as digital anatomy books. Chandler Mayfield is director of technology enhanced learning.

"They can put this and move it around and look at it, right as they're looking at the cadaver. Because the cadaver is really the star of the show, as we say, in anatomy learning," said Chandler Mayfield from UCSF.

Both managing and respecting that valuable resource was also a motivation behind the upgrade. The center now has space for up to 30 cadavers -- both embalmed and unembalmed, with the latter allowing students to practice surgical techniques on human tissue. A press of a button lowers a wall, to separate the two areas, while computer controlled ventilation changes the air 36 times per hour.

"It's an amazing space," said UCSF anatomy professor Kimberly Topp, Ph.D. She helped plan the $7 million remodeling project.

"And we realized we wanted to continue with cadaver dissection, and we wanted a space that was inviting. We have a wall of windows for natural light," said Topp.

As many as 150 students fill the center when classes are full, learning in an environment that's literally transformed the experience of mastering human anatomy.

"Yes, it's absolutely fun. I think a lot of what our learning is the first two years is out of textbooks and in kind of theoretical and really getting to see things first hand and to touch things, and to witness it is both just an unbelievable gift and really fun to experience," said Friedman.

The anatomy lab also provides video connections to UCSF's operating rooms. That allows students studying a particular part of the anatomy to follow along with experienced surgeons who are operating on the same part of the body.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.


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