Exploring the utility and student perceptions of synthetic cadavers in an undergraduate human anatomy course

Anat Sci Educ. 2020 Oct 8. doi: 10.1002/ase.2024. Online ahead of print.


The synthetic cadaver is a high-fidelity model intended to replace or supplement other anatomy learning modalities. Academic attainment and student perceptions were examined in an undergraduate human anatomy course using a combination of plastic models and synthetic cadavers to learn lower body anatomy ("Experimental group"), compared to a Historical group who used only plastic models. Grades on an upper body test, for which both groups used only plastic models, were compared to ensure that no academic differences existed between groups (P = 0.7653). Students in the Experimental group performed better on the lower body test for which they used both plastic models and synthetic cadavers (median = 73.8% (95% CI: 72.0-75.0%) compared to the Historical group (70.1% (95% CI: 68.3%-70.7%), P < 0.0001), however less than half of students (49%) attributed this to the synthetic cadavers. Students' perception of laboratory resources (P < 0.0001) and learning experience (P < 0.0001) both improved with the addition of synthetic cadavers compared to using only plastic models, and 60% of students in the Experimental group agreed that the synthetic cadavers would be a key reason that they would choose that institution for undergraduate studies. This investigation showed improved student grades when plastic models and synthetic cadavers were combined, in addition to improved student perceptions of the learning experience. Results of the student questionnaires also suggested that although synthetic cadavers carry a notable up-front cost, they may be a useful recruitment tool for institutions.

Keywords: anatomical sciences; gross anatomy education; medical education; synthetic cadaver; teaching of anatomy; undergraduate education.