On April 11 in Berg Agriculture Hall’s room 369, 15 students crowded around two tables each bearing a human cadaver. The room was filled with the smell of preservative, and all 15 of them were listening and watching intently as a pair of black T-shirt clad anatomy interns explained the inner workings of the human body.
Anatomy interns have been helping their fellow students learn the inner workings of the human body for twelve years. They prepare the lab for class and clean up the mess when it’s over. But there’s more to the job than laying out models of the human body and sweeping floors.
“Our role is to be a set of answers for students,” said Ethan Snow, a sophomore and one of the more than 38 undergraduate anatomy interns.
The interns provide Anatomy 221 students with a unique resource, one that a lot of other schools simply don’t have. Each of them has recently completed the class themselves and can provide invaluable help to students in a difficult course of instruction.
Each lab section has two interns in addition to a graduate teaching assistant, which effectively cuts the teacher student ratio by more than half.
“I think it’s easier. Instead of having one teaching assistant you can get your questions answered more quickly,” said freshman anatomy student Ryan Verschelde.
The interns themselves are not much older than the students they’re helping teach, in some cases they can even be younger.
“They make it easier to ask questions because they’re closer to your age,” said Sam Wagner, also a freshmen anatomy student.
The interns each bring their own unique set of experiences on how to learn and remember the many intricate details of human anatomy.
“I like having different perspectives on things. If one thing doesn’t work for you, something else might,” Wagner said.
During April 11’s lab, as Snow explained the course that food takes through the body he showed his students how to use their own bodies as study tools. As Snow showed his students the path of food in the dissected cadaver, he would pause and explain how they could find the structures in their own bodies.
“Everything that we are learning is your body … you can walk in to an anatomy exam and you’ve got the biggest cheat sheet there is because it’s your own body,” Snow said.
Snow came to SDSU from Tekamah, Nebraska and is a Biology Major on the premed track. He’s a sophomore with plans to go on to medical school and then specialize in anesthesia. He also gets really excited about human anatomy.
“All of my friends think I’m a little crazy because of how into it I get,” Snow said with a barely concealed smile. “One night I was studying fetal circulation … I was in my room curled up on the futon with my eyes closed trying to trace fetal circulation. My roommate walked in and busted a gut, he couldn’t figure it out.”
The anatomy interns, along with two other undergraduate teams, help to support and teach the 320 students who enrolled in Anatomy 221 for the spring semester. The two other undergraduate teams are the teaching team and the dissection team. Both teams were started in spring of 2006 and are made up of anatomy interns that have finished the program.
Members of the dissection team actually have the opportunity to dissect a human cadaver. For undergraduates like Snow, that is incredibly rare. Most undergraduate anatomy programs only get cadavers after medical or other graduate programs.
“Other schools bring cadavers in, but they’re already dissected,” said Dr. Scott Pedersen, the professor in charge of the anatomy intern program.
The experience and the leg up comes with a significant commitment, however.
“You arrive early and you leave late. You’re the one who arrives 15 minutes early to make sure everything is set up and you’re the one that leaves late to make sure everything is clean and put back into place,” Snow said.
According to Pedersen some interns put five or six times the amount of hours the university requires them to.
“They’re nuts … the level of dedication I see is incredible,” he said.
Snow, for his part, spent a portion of his April 11 lab on his knees on top of the desk at the front of room 369 pointing out on his own body how food makes its way through. He had found an online video that didn’t have sound so he filled in as the voice-over and secondary visual aid.
Snow was attracted to SDSU in large part because of the anatomy internship program. In high school he decided that he wanted to go into the medical field. When he started to look at colleges he didn’t see anything like the SDSU program anywhere else he visited.
“Going back to high school I knew there was a dissection team here (SDSU), and the chance to dissect a human cadaver before medical school really brought me up here,” he said.
Pedersen said students gain a deeper understanding of how the body works and thus get a leg up on their competition when applying for professional programs like medical school.
“I’d say 90 percent of the combined teaching and dissection teams go on to professional programs,” Pedersen said.