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Virtual Dissection Table Shows Future of Medical Education

A pair of Anatomage Tables at Battle Ground High School in Washington allow students to conduct virtual dissections and view detailed scans of cadavers and organs, inspiring some to pursue health science careers.

anatomage table
(TNS) — Looming in the corner of a small classroom at Battle Ground High School is the future of medical education.

Reminiscent of the infamous monoliths from "2001: A Space Odyssey," the Anatomage Table is a new piece of technology that allows students to conduct virtual dissections and view detailed scans of cadavers and various organs.

"This thing is insane," said Tracee Godfrey, a health science instructor. "It's smarter than I am, I swear."

Nearly seven feet tall when propped up vertically, the device's touch screen can be used to closely examine real-life scans of bodies that were donated to science. Students can view the various layers of human anatomy, from the labyrinth-like nervous system to the skeleton. Since the scans are of real bodies, they feature a much more realistic variation of health than the overly perfect visualizations of the human body that are often used in classes.

Not only that, but the device has scans of individual organs that can be animated, displaying how our heart, for example, looks when we're resting versus when we're exercising.

Using a smaller device called a pulse oximeter, students took a visiting reporter's heart rate and set the heart on the screen to beat at the same speed to help visualize it better.

"It helps us think what our bodies are telling us," Godfrey said. "In his case, his heart rate is 93 beats per minute, which makes me think he's nervous, or perhaps he's had too much coffee."

The latter was likely the case.

Battle Ground Public Schools purchased two Anatomage Tables in July 2020 to support Career and Technical Education students in advanced health science, animal science and forensic science at Battle Ground and Prairie high schools.

Prior to this year, Godfrey said the advanced health science career path was struggling to attract interested students. Since the introduction of the table at the beginning of this school year, however, students are already saying it's helped transform both their passion and understanding of the field.

"Before I took this class, I knew almost nothing," said Gigi Slaton-Benson, a sophomore. "I didn't even know about the program a few years ago."

Slaton-Benson's mother works as a postpartum nurse. Since diving into the program, Slaton-Benson's own understanding and fascination with her mother's work has exploded.

"It's so interesting to me, I want to go into that," she said.

Holding up a plastic model of the heart and comparing it to the detail of the LCD screen, Godfrey jokes that it's no wonder the level of learning has seen such a night-and-day change.

In addition to the table, the classroom has gained several other mannequins and hospital beds to let health science students simulate a variety of medical situations and emergencies. On a normal day, students cycle through the stations

"Even if they don't go into medicine, they'll still be able to understand if something is wrong with themselves or with a family member," Godfrey said, gesturing to the group of students that had become busy debating the health of a virtual kidney on screen.

Many of the students in Godfrey's class are part of a group called the Health Occupations Students of America, or HOSA, for short. As a club, the students make posters that raise awareness for specific conditions or illnesses and sometimes participate in community benefits like blood drives.

"The biggest thing we do is inform," said Gabriela Garcia, a sophomore. "We're still kids, but we've worked with colleges about our interests. It supports all types of medical interests."

As news of the contributions to the program provided by the Anatomage Table spread, Godfrey hopes enrollment in her class and similar programs will increase.

"They know how to use technology better than me, it's humbling," she said. "But this provides a very easily visualized application. You can see the light bulbs going off in their heads."

©2022 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.