Students come face-to-face with cadavers

In a room located on the second floor of the SEM Center, there are six preserved human bodies ready to help students who are enrolled in OCCC’s Human Anatomy class succeed.

One of those students is Bart Consedine.

Consedine said he’s making his second run at BIO 2255. In this course, students study the human body and its systems through the dissection of human cadavers.

“There’s definitely that morbid element to it that I wasn’t sure how I’d react to,” he said, “but it’s just like anything else once you get used to it.”

Consedine said the extensive research required in the class is far more intimidating than working with cadavers.

Nursing student Johnny Wong also is enrolled in the class. He said he’s worked with cadavers in previous classes so he isn’t nervous or anxious about it.

However, he said, there are those “superstitious people” who have expressed concern to him about the course material.

Wong agreed that the arduousness of the class itself is his chief concern.

He said he has studied at major universities and finds OCCC’s anatomy class equally difficult.

Consedine and Wong both said they are impressed by OCCC’s cadaver facility.


Biology Professor Julian Hilliard teaches one of the classes.

He said although working with a human cadaver may come as a shock to some, most students have had some preparation.

“Most students who are bio majors of any kind have dissected something else in high school — a frog or a cat, and that’s actually quite good experience for getting used to a cadaver,” he said.

Hilliard said although the embalming chemicals aren’t identical to cadaver embalming chemicals, the smell is similar.

“An embalmed cadaver doesn’t really seem like a live person at all,” he said.

“It’s shaped like a person, but the color is different, the smell is different. It’s different enough that everyone knows where they are and they don’t think they’re in a zombie movie.”


The state morgue supplies the bodies, Hilliard said, through the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

“They have a fairly large facility for holding cadavers in a pretty good number as part of the Willed Body Program,” he said.

People who are interested in giving their bodies for a small amount of money go through the Willed Body Program, which requires them to agree to have their bodies dissected for education once they’re dead, Hilliard said.

Hilliard said only certain students are allowed in the cadaver lab — those with a degree plan which requires the class such as pre-nursing, pre-physical therapy, or pre-physicians associate, and pre-pharmacy.

“It’s only people who are going into certain health-care fields who are expected to have a cadaver-based anatomy class,” he said.

Hilliard said the classes meet two times a week throughout the semester, giving students 32 sessions in the cadaver lab.

“They dissect the cadaver every day they meet … .

“It’s not unusual … for my students to have 10 hours a week of time in the cadaver lab.”

Hilliard said while that may seem extreme, there are hundreds of structures to know which can only be learned with time.

Jordan Garner has a bachelor’s degree in psychology but is at OCCC to study nursing. She is currently enrolled in one of the anatomy classes.

“This is my first interaction with a dead body,” she said.

She said students were introduced to the cadavers on the first day and were already making incisions and discoveries.

Garner said she looks forward to obtaining a more profound knowledge of the human body and all of its intricate parts.

“I never realized how much there was to the human body,” she said. “It’s fascinating.”

Garner said the cadavers aren’t known to the students by name or any other designation, but their age and cause of death is documented.

She said professors, students and others involved in the process at OCCC are all very respectful of these people who have donated their bodies to education.

Consedine agrees.

“I was really impressed by it,” he said. “Every part of the remains is carefully accounted for … and at the end, [the body] is cremated and returned to the family.”


Hilliard said the lab receives six bodies per semester, excluding the summer semester. That has six students assigned to each cadaver.

“There’s a direct correlation with grades and lab time.”

The student drop rate is higher in this class than in some classes, Hilliard said, because the material is difficult.

“Some people just discover when they’re around the cadaver that they hate this environment, but it doesn’t happen as often as the public might anticipate,” he said.

Garner said she’s already over her initial apprehension.

“It’s a little creepy at first,” she said.

Garner said the cadaver lab, with its subjects shrouded respectfully in their white sheets before the work begins, can hold an air of spookiness for the uninitiated.

“But it gets easier once you get started,” she said.

Seeing the cadaver’s hair for the first time once the sheet was pulled back put things into a new perspective, Garner said.

“That was what made it more real.”

Garner said there was no real way to prepare herself for the experience but she was lucky to have a friend who’d already taken the anatomy course.

“She said, ‘If you don’t volunteer on the first day, then you’re never going to do it and you’ll just watch other people do it.’

“Once I tried it, I was fine.”


Hilliard said OCCC’s cadaver lab is what makes the college stand out from most other community colleges throughout the country.

“With the few times I’ve looked it up, we’ve been one of fewer-than-10 community colleges in the U.S. with a cadaver lab, and there’s hundreds of community colleges in the country,” he said.

Though Hilliard has collectively spent 13 years in cadaver lab environments, he said he plans to spend less time in the lab for health reasons.

“The smell of embalming chemicals … it’s not the smell of death, not the smell of decay, it’s a strong chemical that the bodies have,” he said.

“Embalming fluid is fairly toxic, too. So I’m trying to reduce my exposure to those toxins.”

Consedine said the chemical odor wouldn’t affect his studies.

“But it definitely doesn’t increase my appetite or anything,” he said.

Hilliard said the students develop a new depth of maturity while spending time in the lab.

“[The students] are grateful for a good class,” he said. “They’ve been there and they’ve done that, having as much cadaver experience as some medical doctors get by the time they finish this class.”

Garner said she is ready to tackle the class.

“Now that I’ve started, I’m really glad I got this opportunity,” she said. “Whoever can get the opportunity, they should take it. I think everyone should experience it if they can. I think it’s fascinating.”

For more information about OCCC’s Cadaver Lab, check out, or contact Hilliard at

For more about the Willed Body program, visit or call 405 271-2424, ext. 0.

This is part one of a three-part series that will follow the students through the semester. Look for part two in the March 13 Pioneer. See additional information at the Pioneer Online at

To contact Bryce McElhaney, email

To contact Jorge Krzyzaniak, email

Leave comment