Learning at risk with shortage of donated cadavers, UBC Faculty of Medicine says

Click to play video: 'UBC seeing significant decline in body donations' UBC seeing significant decline in body donations
They're used for teaching and research and provide invaluable lessons for medical students. But UBC says a shortage of cadavers have hit its medical programs. For the first time in seven decades, donations and dwindling, and as Grace Ke reports, universities say learning is at stake. – Jun 28, 2022

The University of British Columbia is hoping to raise awareness about its cadaver donation program as the number of donations for medical research, surgical practice and testing continues to decline.

The UBC Body Donation Program has operated in the Faculty of Medicine since 1950 and has typically received between 80 and 120 donations per year.

That number now ranges from 45 to 50, according to Dr. Edwin Moore, head of the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and the donation program.

“Other universities are also experiencing a decline — not all, but some are — and we don’t know why that’s the case,” he told Global News. “It’s possibly because we were closed for a short time during COVID and people may not realize that we’re back open.”

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When the program is fully operational, Moore said about 1,000 students in medicine, dentistry, physical and occupational therapy, midwifery, and biomedical engineering visit to learn anatomy every year. Surgeons also come to practice, learn new techniques and experiment with new methods.

“Every single donation impacts the health and wellbeing of thousands of people in the coming years. It is an extraordinary gift to posterity,” he said.

“The substitute is textbooks, videos and virtual reality, but as every anatomy instructor will tell you and as the students will tell you, it’s not the same.”

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Armaghan Alam, a fourth-year medical student at UBC, is one of many who used cadavers to learn dissections and other techniques as he prepares to become a surgeon. He also helped host an annual memorial service for the donors to thank them and show respect to them and their families.

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“It’s truly such a unique experience and you cannot get that same experience from working from a textbook or online resources,” he said of working with the donations.

“I’ve had a quite longitudinal relationship and learning experience with cadavers, and I think over that time, I’ve really come to appreciate how much you cannot make up that experience in any other way.”

Cadavers are many students’ “first experience” interacting with a patient, he added, teaching them not only anatomy but how to pay “appropriate respect” to the people and bodies they interact with.

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All accepted cadaver donations remain in the care of UBC for six months to three years, unless an individual has specified otherwise on their consent form.

After use, the university cremates the remains and notifies next of kin to collect the ashes.

More information on how to register as a body donor, or consent after the death of a potential donor, is available on the program’s website.

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