Medical Schools Find Value in Virtual Dissections

SF August 23

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for educators across the world and forced many of them to rethink the way they deliver course content. For instance, many educators teaching biology laboratory courses who planned on conducting animal dissection exercises instead made use of virtual dissection alternatives when classes transitioned from in person to virtual last year.

NAVS saw an uptick in the number of educators who reached out to us about dissection alternatives during the pandemic. We were pleased to provide resources to these and other teachers through to ensure that their course plans were not disrupted.

However, middle school and high school biology teachers were not the only science educators forced to alter their mode of teaching during the pandemic. A recent article from NPR shared how medical school educators navigated plans to conduct human cadaver dissections with their students.

Although Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine has an Anatomy Resource Center with preserved cadavers for students to study in their anatomy labs, the school invested in state-of-the art technology before the pandemic, which made the transition to remote learning much easier.

The school’s cadaver specimens are linked to QR codes. When the code is scanned, students have access to three-dimensional representations of those precise specimens. The students can then access those images from their personal devices at home.

Medical student Ashlynn Torres found this mode of learning very helpful.

“I think it’s nice to be able to visualize multiple times…what these structures are, what lies beneath them, because, she noted, “since it is a software, you can hit the undo button and restore a muscle that you’ve just dissected.”

Although some educators prefer the hands-on experience that comes with performing dissections, those experiences are not necessary for students to learn the material associated with the activity.

“I love dissecting cadavers,” said Dr. José Barral, a professor of biomedical science at the Kaiser school. “I think it’s fun and I think it’s useful. But I am convinced that this technology is equally effective at learning the anatomical relationships.”

He further noted that virtual learning can help make education more streamlined and efficient, as the technology is designed to help students teach themselves. This is particularly important as medical education continues to evolve, with more concepts to teach students, but not more time to do so.

“I think [virtual dissection] is the direction that many, many schools are going in the future,” Dr. Barral noted.

NAVS is excited to see the use of virtual dissection being accepted as a viable learning tool in medical schools. If this type of learning is deemed appropriate for future physicians, it certainly has a place in pre-college classrooms.

We encourage educators at the middle and high school levels to consider utilizing humane dissection alternatives—such as those found at—in their own classrooms. These tools not only meet learning objectives associated with dissection exercises, but they also save animals’ lives.

NAVS is now offering BioLEAP Classroom Grants to educators looking to introduce dissection alternatives in their curricula. Your gift today will help fund these grants and bring humane science tools into more classrooms.