A High-Tech, No Smell Anatomy Lab

Post by Eric Fulmer
USC School of Medicine Greenville takes to heart its motto, A New School of Thought, in the many changes that it is using to develop a new breed of doctor. The doctor that is focused more on the patient and our society…but the fact of the matter is that it’s a new school in a spanking new, state-of-the-art building. A building that makes a pretty good first impression. (Had me from day one!)

As leader for the student Information Technology (IT) committee, I figured that I was in a pretty good place to reflect on the advances in technology that have been put in place in our medical school. These advances go beyond the electronic, however, and have found their way into nearly every square inch of the building. I asked several of my classmates where in the building they most appreciated the use of technology and each of them mentioned the gross anatomy lab. So for this post, I will be focusing on the gross anatomy lab.

One of the most stigmatized rooms in any med school is the gross anatomy lab where students study human anatomy on preserved bodies of people who graciously donated their remains for the study of medicine. The bodies are preserved in formaldehyde—which if you have been so lucky as to have performed any dissections in high school or college, you will know it does not exactly have a pleasant aroma—and stored in the lab. In most schools, a fume hood is placed over each of the tables to, presumably, suction out the smell, typically with little effect. At USC School of Medicine Greenville, however, a new downdraft system is installed in each table to pull the fumes down off the table instead of up into the air. This small advance makes a huge difference in the quality of time spent in the lab (for which we are very thankful).

Another great advancement is that the anatomy is not located in a dark, dank basement. It’s on the third floor of the Health Sciences Education Building with lots of expansive windows that flood the room with natural light. This makes for a much more pleasant—dare I say cheery?—place to perform dissections.

The anatomy lab also has the large monitors at each station. These are actually touch screen computer monitors that have Internet access and, as such, can be used to access our textbooks (*side note: nearly all of our textbooks are electronic and can be accessed by computer or iPad; more to come on this later*). This removes the need to have smelly, stained (truly gross) anatomy textbooks at every station. The screens can be wiped down after each session adding to the sanitation of the lab.

In short, this new school of thought is creating a whole new atmosphere…starting with the smell.