The Willed Body Program at Western University of Health Sciences serves a vital role in educating health professions students. The program needs more volunteer donors. Please call Willed Body Program Director Nina McCoy at 909-469-5431 for more information about the program, or visit the website:

WesternU recently opened colleges of Dental Medicine, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine, and will open the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in July 2011.

The Willed Body Program typically needs 60-80 donors per year, and with these additional students, the need is even greater, McCoy said.

The Willed Body Program does not cost any money, and cremains will be returned to the family after studies are completed, typically after one to two years.

Often a family will not talk about death, and are then left not knowing what to do when someone dies.

“There is a silly taboo that makes people not want to approach this inevitability,” McCoy said. “It’s really important to not leave a burden on your family. It’s already a difficult time to suffer the loss, but if you leave them with no plan, it’s even worse. It’s important to think about and plan what you would like.”

Anatomy studies take as long as two years. The bodies are treated with dignity and respect in honor of both the donors and their families, McCoy said. Students hold a memorial service in honor of donors at the completion of their anatomy lab studies.

“I tell my students, these bodies represent somebody who was well loved in this community,” she said. “We must respect that, because ultimately I’m going to have to call their family to return their creamains. I have to face them in the beginning and face them in the very end. I can’t lie to them.”

College of Allied Health Professions Doctor of Physical Therapy students have 60 two-hour sessions in the anatomy lab during their first year. Two DPT students who recently completed their anatomy lab studies agreed to share their experiences:

Rebecca Lisonbee, DPT ’13

I had the unique experience of having a cadaver lab in my undergraduate education. It was not a dissection lab, but we were able to learn about the body first hand, rather than from books. When I decided to go to graduate school for physical therapy, I knew that I would have to take an upper level anatomy class, and included with that would be a dissection lab. I was extremely nervous about having to actually dissect out the structures we would learn about. I was unsure if it would help me learn any better than just studying the previously dissected bodies or not.

My first day of lab was interesting. I was more nervous about the lab than I had been about any other class I had taken thus far in my education. Before class even started, I asked a fellow classmate to be in my group, solely because he was excited about the coming challenges, and I felt I needed that excitement in my group in order to handle what was coming. I remember taking the scalpel for the first time and making my first incision. I felt more like a surgeon than a physical therapist. I remember the awe I felt as we uncovered more structures; structures that I had seen before, but never in this way. Since we had to find our way through the human body, it helped us learn more. We were able to discover things, and learn more through discovery than identification.

We were provided with the first name of our donor, and their cause of death. We referred to our donor by name, and wondered about her life. Spending a year with Mary was amazing. We came to learn her body better than anyone could ever know their own body. We came to appreciate her more and more each day as we were able to expand our knowledge through the selfless act of another person. The gift of learning through her donation was appreciated more each time we walked through the doors of the lab. We came to know her as a friend, giving us encouragement and knowledge.

So why is having a cadaver lab better than learning from books and models? The great thing about the anatomy lab is the ability to learn through discovery. It is true that if you study the anatomy book, you will be able to learn the structures of the body. However, the human body is variable and each person is slightly different. Having the book open next to us was helpful, but it was not complete. We were able to use the book to identify the general area of the structure we were trying to identify, and see what should be next to it, but it was never exactly like the picture in the book. Since we had to uncover the structures and then identify them, we were able to internalize the information as we learned. I remember how nervous I was before my first exam. I studied for more than 20 hours to prepare. When I got to the lab, I was able to go quickly through the different dissections in my head, and orient myself to the appropriate part of the body. I found that I was well prepared for the exam because of my preparation in the lab during the many weeks before. I felt comfortable with the information because I was able to internalize the information so well during labs. I am truly grateful for the wonderful opportunity that I had to have a cadaver lab in my education. I have come to a greater appreciation and awe for the human body. I feel that the experiences and knowledge I have gained over the past several months will help me become a more competent and compassionate physical therapist.

Omid Kajbaf, DPT ’13

“We privileged few who enter here, embrace dignity and respect.” I am happy to say these are the first words we see each time we step into the WesternU Anatomy Lab where WesternU’s Willed Body Program provides first year students in various disciplines human cadavers for one of the most integral courses we will ever take in preparing to become future healthcare providers. As a second year DPT student, I can confidently argue that everything we learn and do in the future will go back to our understanding of anatomy. The generosity of the many people in the past who have given their body to our school for education has allowed our programs to maintain a small cadaver to student ratio, ensuring optimal learning by every student. The larger number of donors also allowed us to appreciate the variability in individuals that is rarely taught in textbooks.

We not only embrace dignity and respect for these individuals but also a sense of immeasurable appreciation. By donating their body, we realize, these people have not only touched our lives forever, but also the lives of every single patient we treat in the future. And for that we are forever thankful. At the end of the year, we give these bodies a memorial service where students share poetry, music, flowers, and thanks to these benevolent individuals. I feel very honored to have had the privilege to study anatomy at WesternU for I believe my education, because of these individuals who donated their bodies to the Willed Body Program, has been incredible.