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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
University defends 'corpse-free classes'
Harvey
Harvey: A heart-lung simulator (pic: British Heart Foundation)
Students arriving at the UK's newest medical school will not learn human anatomy by cutting into a real cadaver - but use realistic dummies instead.

However, traditionalists say this will lead to a "dumbing down" of medical training.

Anatomy is commonly one of the first experiences of a new medical student, involving the gradual dissection of someone who has "left their body to medical science".

Many students find it, at least at first, a particularly gruelling experience, and it is viewed by some consultants as an essential "rite of passage".

Brain surgery
Actual surgery may look different to cutting a cadaver
The Peninsula Medical School, in Plymouth and Exeter, which admitted students for the first time on Monday, will use a combination of computer simulations and interactive dummies instead, completely eliminating the need for dissection.

There will still be anatomy exams, and the school's director, Dr John McLachlan, said that standards would not suffer.


Some of the students end up holding the dummy's hand, and getting quite attached

Dr John McLachlan, Peninsula Medical School
He told BBC News Online: "In truth, once someone is dead, a nerve fibre looks very similar to a blood vessel - they don't in a live person. It isn't that realistic.

"Our aim isn't to say that anatomy isn't important."

The latest learning aids involve examination of detailed scans of volunteer patients, and Dr McLachlan believes this will better prepare students to work in a medical world dominated by imaging technology.

However, Andrew Raftery, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons council, told the Times: "It is better to learn on a cadaver than on a patient.

"I would like to see a standard examination so we knew that every doctors is being trained to the same standard."

Would-be surgeons

Dr McLachlan says that his graduates would not be disadvantaged should they wish to pursue a career in a surgical specialty.

He said: "Whatever specialty the student chooses to pursue, there will inevitably be extra training to be completed, whether for surgery or for general practice.

"I believe our students could actually be at an advantage."

Realistic

The dummies - some costing upwards of 25,000 - can simulate all manner of complaints for prospective doctors to diagnose.

They have a realistic pulse and heartbeat - and even breath sounds.

A student might have to diagnose a collapsed lung - and could even treat it on the dummy.

It even has an inbuilt speaker - so that the poor "patient" can complain bitterly at his treatment.

Dr McLachlan says it could improve his students' bedside manner.

"Some of the students end up holding the dummy's hand, and getting quite attached."

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