Minot State opens cadaver lab

Dr. Aaron Ament hopes program will be a draw to MSU

Dr. Aaron Ament, an instructor in the biology department and the supervisor of the cadaver lab, is shown in the new cadaver lab at Minot State University.

Dr. Aaron Ament, Minot State University biology instructor and supervisor of the university’s brand new cadaver lab, traveled an unusual path to his position at MSU.

Ament, who is originally from Baltimore, started out as a nurse as a stepping stone on his path to medical school in Chicago. He was nearly finished with medical school on the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the world and Ament’s career path. He had originally planned to stay in the Chicago area and specialize in family practice medicine

Air Force recruiters, in need of medical personnel, visited his medical school and Ament eventually signed on to the Air Force. He arrived in North Dakota in 2002, where he worked in family practice. He was stationed at Minot Air Force Base. A hand injury in 2007 derailed his career path again. He was facing a medical discharge from the Air Force and would no longer be able to practice medicine. He decided to apply for a position at Minot State and has been an instructor in the biology department since that time.

Former students Caitlyn Burkardt and Morgen Martelle, both nursing majors at Minot State, said Ament’s broad experience in different fields make him a great teacher and also very accessible. Martelle said Ament is able to put complicated scientific concepts into language that the ordinary layman can easily understand.

Burkardt, Martelle and Ament all said students will benefit greatly from the opportunity to work on a human cadaver. Students in the Biology 220 and 221 and 221 Anatomy and Physiology I and II classes will use the lab in their classes.

“My first opportunity to work on a cadaver was as an undergrad, and there is real benefit to being able to touch and feel actual tissue,” Ament told the public relations director at Minot State. “But it goes beyond that. It’s a little metaphysical. The experience is so vivid, it’s something you will remember and appreciate as you continue on in biology. It’s humans dissecting a human. It’s one of those big picture items; you can take in account how they died. In our case, one of the individuals had heart disease. Once we are to that point in the dissection, we can actually see what caused that event.”

This hands-on experience will help students learn in ways they could not from a plastic model or a computer simulation of the human body or even from an animal model.

“The computer thing on your iPad has never had a heart attack,” Ament said..

The rats that his students used to dissect did not have gall bladders, so his students had to learn from lectures.

“Models are terrible at showing blood vessels and nerves and veins,” added Ament.

Minot State partnered with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences to receive the cadavers – one male and one female cadaver. The deceased donated their bodies to science with the goal of helping others. As such, students must treat the cadavers with great respect. Ament said no pictures or video are allowed to be taken in the lab. Students must work with supervision. There are rules about how to work with tissue, including how to best preserve it so it can continue to be worked with.

Students in five different biology labs will work in the cadaver lab this year. At the end of the year, the cadavers will be returned to UND. They will be cremated and the remains will be returned to their families for burial.

Minot State will receive two cadavers each academic year. Ament said he worked with Denelle Kees, Ph.D, of the UND Deeded Body Progam, and Mandy Meyer, of the UND Cadaver Program. Dr. Zeni Shabani, who left Minot State last spring, had made some of the initial contacts with UND regarding the cadaver lab, said Ament. Ament was asked this summer to take over management of the program.

About half of the students in his classes are nursing students, said Ament. Another 10 percent are biology and chemistry majors who might eventually plan to go on to medical school. Others intend to go into other health care related fields. A few are interested in physical therapy. He has also had art majors who are interested in pursuing a career in scientific illustration.

“I really think this can be applied in multiple areas,” he told the public relations director. “In a lot of places, nursing students don’t get the opportunity to work on cadavers. Individuals who are studying art, for another example, if they are thinking of becoming a medical illustrator, can actually see the bones and muscles. Even the athletes on campus can see and understand why certain injuries happen. It will give everyone a better understanding of the human body, in whatever subject they are studying.

Ament and students in his classes had been lobbying for years for a cadaver lab.

Burkardt, who has already taken Ament’s class, said she was excited when she found out that the lab, which contains two stations for dissection and an observation room, had finally been completed this summer. She and Martelle said it almost makes them want to take the class over again themselves.

“It’s cool, it’s so cool,” said Burkardt.

Ament said he believes the university will eventually recoup the amount that was spent on the cadaver lab within the next couple of years.

He thinks the cadaver lab will also attract students to the university. It will be appealing for students interested in a medical field who might otherwise have gone away to college. The university will offer the lab experience of a medical school, but with a much smaller class size at the undergraduate level.

“Hopefully, this is going to be a really big draw for the university,” he said.