It is an odd thing to say about a room full of dead bodies, but the new Gross Anatomy Lab at Georgia Regents University now feels more “friendly,” to fourth-year medical student Michael Tjahjadi.
The renovated room is just the first part of new medical education space at GRU that will culminate in the opening of the J. Harold Harrison Medical Education Commons Building this fall.
Students this week began using the $4 million, 12,000-square-foot space, which is three times the size of the previous building and light years in technology from the previous lab, which didn’t appear much more advanced than the anatomy lab used by students in the 19th century.
“We were very much old school in the old lab space,” said Dr. Carol Nichols, associate professor in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy and the medical gross anatomy director. “This is an (operating room)-quality facility that we have here now.”
The department’s chair, Dr. Sylvia Smith, would go even further than that.
“This is the best anatomy suite in the United States,” she said. “It is state of the art.”
Where before students might prop a textbook on a stand next to the table to help guide them, now they are surrounded by screens at the tables and on the walls.
“The students can look at videos, they can look at surgical procedures, they can look up information in real time,” Nichols said. “Every table here is assigned a computer, they have access to everything they need. It enhances the learning experience being able to tie in what they are seeing at the moment to its clinical relevance.”
Students study on all kinds of devices, and now they will able to access some of that same information as they work in the anatomy suites, said first-year MCG student Carter Galbraith.
“Now actually having it in the dissection room will really add to our overall understanding,” he said.
As he spoke, the buzz of saws cutting into skulls rang throughout the suites as students worked to look at what lies underneath.
“It’s an exciting day,” Galbraith said.
The suites also have cameras where the instructors can focus attention on something unusual or instructive, Nichols said.
“If we see something like a knee replacement or a heart valve or a tumor, we can say ‘Hey, look at this,’ and we can project it to all of the screens and all of the labs, rather than say, ‘Look over my shoulder and see if you can see this,’ ” she said.
Anomalies are bound to show up, Smith said.
“Our cadavers are a cross-section of the population,” she said. “They are from all walks of life.”
It would also allow them to preserve the more unusual cases as well – about 15 years ago they came across a body that had situs inversus, where all of the organs were on the opposite side of where they normally are, Smith said.
“It is compatible with life because it is a complete reversal but it is extremely rare,” she said.
The new space features much better lighting and the tables can be adjusted up and down, which first-year medical student Amanda Bradley appreciated.
“I had to stand on my tiptoes before” to see clearly, she said.
Bradley got to show off the space to prospective students and “everyone’s jaw was dropping,” she said.
It also has locker rooms with showers, which the students didn’t have before, and is much better ventilated, said fourth-year student Seema Jabbar, who taught anatomy in the old space over the summer.
“The new environment is really going to enhance learning just because it makes people more comfortable and you’re going to get more work done,” Tjahjadi added.
That goes for the faculty, too, who were all smiles.
“We have an outstanding faculty, a cadre of individuals that are teaching these classes,” Smith said. “But this is uplifting to everybody.”
“We’re as excited as the students, if not more so,” Nichols said.