Why Kaiser Permanente's medical school will swap real cadavers for virtual ones

When Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente's new medical school opens in 2020, students will learn human anatomy using 3D touchscreen software, virtual reality headsets and manikins, rather than actual human cadavers, Fast Company reports.

The Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine — as the school was recently named following the Nov. 10 death of the organization's late chairman and CEO — will still have some preserved human bodies, largely for the purpose of demonstrating how human bodies can vary, José Barral, MD, PhD, the school's chair of biomedical sciences, told the outlet.

In general, however, the benefits of virtual cadavers far outweigh those of real ones. "Retention is about the same as the traditional cadaver dissection," Dr. Barral said. "The difference is efficiency. They do it much faster and it allows for prolonged and frequent exposure."

Additionally, the bodies of live humans are very different from cadavers, Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, the school's founding dean, explained to Fast Company: The muscles in cadavers are preserved in an unusual state between flexed and relaxed, and can potentially begin to decay. With virtual cadavers, meanwhile, students can learn to treat patients that not only look and act like real humans, but are in varying states of health.

"We can vary their heart rate, we can give them a heart attack, we can deliver a baby," Dr. Schuster said. "Students can inject, can learn how to put in an IV and draw blood."

The introduction of advanced virtual cadaver software is just one part of the school's mission to revamp the traditional medical school environment. "We are really trying to spend time thinking through what is most useful for students — what will help them learn how to be outstanding doctors," Dr. Schuster said.

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