TORONTO (CTV Network) — Some Canadian medical and dental schools are facing a shortage of a major tool for teaching anatomy: cadavers.

As donations have plummeted since the start of the pandemic, Olusegun Oyedele, a teaching professor at the University of British Columbia’s medical school, believes the shortage of corpses will have a direct impact on the quality of the medical education for countless students.

“Students will lack sudden knowledge of the human body,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Thursday. “I know there are alternatives all over the world. I know other medical schools are using technology. But our graduate students from programs using cadavers will tell you that there is no substitute. There is no alternative to [the real thing].”

Oyedele pointed out that the shortage may particularly affect students heading into surgical disciplines, causing widespread impairment in “knowledge of the human body”.

“The fact that they can see what basically looks like a human that they will work with throughout their lives [is crucial],” he said. “All the organs, nerves and muscles are in exactly the same place. The normal spatial relationships that exist in a human body also exist in a corpse.

Each year, UBC claims that more than 1,000 students from different medical programs are trained in anatomy using cadavers. Before the pandemic, the university received 82 to 100 human cadaver donations per year, but the programs now receive 50%.

Although advanced computer simulations offering virtual reality and emulated scalpel feedback are used around the world, Oyedele said technological alternatives cannot effectively replace the educational experience of training with a real body.

“Medical research has shown that our students learn best when they are able to use all sensory modalities — touch, feel, real depth perception. These things that you can actually experience in a real corpse are not reproducible using all these other models or virtual reality [programs],” he said.

A study, published in Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine, evaluated the effectiveness of a virtual reality temporal bone simulator for anatomy and surgical training. The results revealed that trainees gained greater anatomical knowledge when training on a cadaver than with programs that simulate using a cadaver, but that the virtual reality temporal bone in the skull provided training. generally satisfactory to residents and medical students.

The findings suggest that future advancements in virtual reality could pave the way for more accurate modality simulations in medical education.

Until then, however, human bodies are the best training option available, Oyedele said.

Other universities in North America and beyond are also experiencing a shortage of corpse donations. The University of New Mexico, which normally received up to 75 body donations a year, only accessed 18 this year, according to a news release.

Across the pond, donation numbers in UK medical programs have fallen so low that the British Medical Journal has declared it a ‘crisis’ in surgical training, as reported. The Economist.

“We recognize it’s a gift and we don’t take it for granted,” Oyedele said. “We keep the promise to treat our dead bodies with dignity and respect. And that’s something we really appreciate.

“So please go ahead and donate your body.”

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