BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Vishnu Velupula ’18 was in high school when she made her first
cut into a cadaver.
As an Illinois Wesleyan biology major in the pre-med program, Velupula returned to the same cadaver lab where she made that first cut,
but this time as a content expert. The lab is the Cadaver Academy, an initiative of
the McLean County Medical Society, local physician and attorney Dr. Tom Pliura, and
the LeRoy Public Schools. Organizers believe the lab is the first ongoing cadaver
dissection lab in the United States for high school students.
The lab opened in 2014 as a learning opportunity for advanced-level high school students
interested in the medical field. This semester Illinois Wesleyan pre-med students
became involved, thanks to the Hart Career Center. Velupula and more than 30 other IWU students interested in careers in medicine volunteered
in the lab by answering the high school students’ questions, quizzing the high schoolers
on anatomy, serving as assistants to the local physicians and high school science
teachers who proctor the lab, and helping maintain an efficient lab environment.
The Illinois Wesleyan students participate in the dissections as well. With the exception
of Velupula, none of the IWU students had ever participated in a dissection prior
to their experiences at the academy.
When the volunteer experience became available, Tana Smithsakol ’17 signed up immediately.
“It’s a really rare and valuable opportunity,” said Smithsakol, a native of Bangkok,
Thailand. His most memorable lab experience occurred on his first day with newly acquired
cadavers, which are obtained from the Anatomical Gift Association. “I was honored
to be able to make the first cut and to help in guiding the high school students through
the dissection,” said Smithsakol.
The lab experience gives Illinois Wesleyan pre-med students a chance to develop their
leadership skills and medical knowledge, and to network with health care professionals,
according to Abby Reel, assistant director of career development and pre-med liaison
to Illinois Wesleyan’s Department of Biology.
“Today's students are expected to demonstrate a diversity of health care experiences
on their medical school applications to be considered competitive candidates,” said
Reel. “The chance to volunteer in the cadaver lab is one of many unique and educational
experiences that prepares IWU students for the profession.”
The experience also helps students – high school and college – affirm career plans.
Participating in the lab experience is a great opportunity to confirm, or change,
the decision to go into medicine, said Velupula, a native of Bloomington, Ill. “Sometimes,
when students see a cadaver in front of them, they decide that the health care field
is not for them,” she said. “This decision is important to be made as an undergraduate
rather than in medical school where it would be more difficult for someone to change
a path he or she has worked so hard to be on.”
Brock Taylor ’18 (Mattoon, Ill.) said the exposure to the cadaver lab has confirmed
his decision to pursue a career in medicine. “In addition, any experience that allows
you to integrate information and explain it to others is something that helps you
learn,” he said.
Taylor said, however, his most important takeway from the experience was emotional
rather than intellectual. “Even though students are engrossed in learning the specific
veins, arteries, muscles and bones of the cadaver, one should not forget that this
was a living person,” said Taylor. “Working with the human body requires the utmost
respect, attention and care — qualities that physicians should posses to a high degree.”
Illinois Wesleyan pre-med students will continue to have the opportunity to volunteer
at Cadaver Academy. The experience complements the rigorous science preparation IWU
students receive – challenging coursework in the liberal arts, personal instruction
from a well-qualified faculty, and hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment.
More than 80 percent of Illinois Wesleyan’s pre-med graduates are admitted to medical
school on the first try, compared to just 50 percent nationally.