Medical school wants your body once you're done with it

LEBANON, Ore. - Any doctor will tell you that hands-on learning is the key to success.

And at Western University COMP-Northwest Medical School, that's exactly what they're doing.

"This is the anatomy lab, and when the students are in here, the cadavers are more spread out," said Steve Carmichael.

Carmichael runs the university's Willed Body Donation Program, which gives people a chance to voluntarily donate their bodies to science and research once they pass on.

"Currently we have 23, we're looking to receive 23 more for next year," said Carmichael.

The program is still in its very early stages, starting up in August. Carmichael said the first bodies they received were from their sister school in California, but now they're looking to get Oregonians to donate.

"It gives students a hands on experience," he said. "That way they're able to tell the difference between muscle, nerves, tendon, bone."

And for a first year medical student walking into a room full of deceased bodies draped in green sheets, it can be a little daunting.

"We speak to them beforehand and let them know this is their first patient," said clinical anatomy professor Brion Benninger. "If it gets to a point where they feel like they might collapse or something like that, we actually have stations outside our lab that we actually lay them down on."

Benninger said four to five students work on one body for an entire academic year.

"While one is maybe explaining the theory and explaining where the orientation is, the other one is actually making an incision one would do in a surgical type procedure," he said. "They've dissected, they've learned surgical procedures so there's that clinical component to it."

After a year, the bodies are cremated. "We will return the cremated remains to a family member, mail them to a cemetery, scatter them at sea," said Carmichael.

He said right now they're hoping for more donations. According to Carmichael, the process is simple, with a few restrictions.

"The main restrictions are height/weight proportions," he said. "And contagious diseases is a definite, something we will have to refuse. Hepatitis, things of that nature."

The school currently has 17 donors from Oregon and the Northwest. And for the students, Carmichael said it's something that will benefit their learning for years to come.

"This is a gift that was given to the university, to them and it's something they will carry their entire career," said Carmichael.

For more information on the donation program you can contact Steve Carmichael at (541) 259-0256 or find more here.