By Clinton Dick
Staff reporter

There are two dead bodies on campus. There hasn’t been a murder or suicide. They are here to help students learn the material they need to become successful in the field of science and medicine.

Pat Ross, professor of biology, teaches the anatomy and physiology course offered every spring. The course gives students an in-depth look at the human body, including a large section in which students use cadavers to identify parts of the body.

“We are teaching the next generation of professionals,” said Ross. “Would you rather be helped by someone who has had experience with cadavers or who was trained on fetal pigs, frogs and textbooks?”

Southwestern College has had a cadaver lab since before Ross began teaching at the college in 1997. The University of Kansas has a cadaver bank that supplies the colleges with cadavers every year.

“It is a big investment,” said Ross. “They supply their own students as well as other schools who need them.”

The biology department always has two cadavers. They receive a new one each year and keep one from the previous year. In turn, they return the older cadaver back to KU, making it so the class had a fresh cadaver and one that has already been through a course. The two cadavers are of the opposite gender and their shapes vary.

“You are generally using people who are in their 70s or 80s,” said Ross. “I’ve had cadavers that have had appendectomies and even one that was an amputee. In terms of how good of shape they will be in, you really don’t know until you get inside.”

Ross said that it is important to maintain the cadavers and keep them in a state in which students can practice dissections.

“They already come in a state of preservation,” said Ross. “The tissue has been fixed and the bodily fluids have been drained away. My main problem is dehydration because as the tissue begins to dry, it becomes fragile. The mistake would be to use a lot of water because that leeches out the preservation and you run into the problem of mold and bacteria. I use a wetting solution.”

The cadaver lab presents opportunities and challenges for students. It is not the easiest thing to be around a dead body.

“I thought I was going to be ok with it,” said Taylor Anglemyer, biochemistry junior. “It was really unsettling at first. You get used to it really fast.”

Mallorie Coffman, biology freshman, agrees that it was an interesting first experience.

“I had never seen a cadaver before, so it was kind of freaky,” said Coffman. “They are pretty cool to look at and see what the insides of people look like.”

Ross said that most of the students end up enjoying the experience and learn a great deal.

“Most of the students in the class are quite successful,” said Ross. “By the end of the semester, they are up to their elbows as much as I am. Occasionally, we have students who do not want to deal with that stuff, but you have to in order to do well in the class.”

“A lot of schools do not have this kind of opportunity,” said Coffman. “They really help with understanding the content.”

Anglemyer agrees. “It is really important for those going into a health care profession because they need to know what it is like instead of just reading it out of a text book.”

Anglemyer has learned through lab exercises, but says it is still odd.

“When it gets late at night, you get kind of scared being around dead bodies,” said Anglemyer.

Clinton Dick is a sophomore majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail him at

Edited by Inger Furholt