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Cadaveric dissection provides an unparalleled education for healthcare providers of every variety. It is important not because it is a means to see anatomical structures; atlases, pictures, models, and technology can all achieve that goal, but it is important due to the fact that it forces the student to look for and discover structures and their related functions. These activities cannot easily be replaced by other means. For this reason, dissection is best approached as an exercise in exploration first and foremost. Your professors, instructors, and assistants are guides on a journey that you are taking, one which ultimately leads to the health of your future patients. In this sense, the individuals that have donated their bodies to your benefit are donating, through their death, better health for others that will come through you. It is of utmost importance that you respect this intention, and take as full advantage of this gift as possible. Learning does not happen by mistake, nor does it happen without mistakes. Study in advance of dissection so that you can anticipate what you will encounter, but also use this opportunity to make as many well-intentioned mistakes as possible in order to avoid making those same mistakes later with living individuals. By the end of your exploration, you should have developed a kind of “X-ray” vision for seeing the structures inside individuals based on the visible external landmarks. This is the foundation of all diagnosis.


Whenever approaching an activity of any kind, it is best to bring with you the right tool for the job. Each tool in the anatomy lab has its own unique function for which it is best suited. Progress is best made by using the best tool, and by taking care of that tool so as not to stymie your own progress later.

The first tool you have is this laboratory guide, with its photographs and labeled structures. However, you should realize that these photographs are not and cannot be a complete guide. In addition, many structures, such as neural pathways and complex arterial branchings, are best understood not with pictures but through abstracted visualizations such as drawings. You should be encouraged to view the structures of the human body in as many different representations as possible in order to understand the nuances that no single collection of words or pictures can fully portray.

Scalpels often come in the form of separate handles with disposable, attachable blades; however, durable scalpels that require regular sharpening are also available (Figure I.1). These are extremely sharp and best used when cutting through the epidermal layer of skin. They will easily cut through natural layers of separation in fascia, and their use deeper than the skin will make it more difficult to identify these natural separations and structures. Scalpels include fixed-blade styles designed to be sharpened regularly, or disposable blades ...

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