WSU program ensures bodies for medical study

By Doug Nadvornick, College of Medicine

David-Conley-webSPOKANE, Wash. – The new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University is procuring the resources it will need once it receives permission to admit students.

More than 40 local physicians have been hired to create and teach the curriculum, along with administrators and support staff. Facilities provide sufficient classroom space and a state-of-the-art anatomy lab.

And hundreds of people have pledged to donate their bodies after death so students have cadavers to learn from. But more are needed.

“We feel that we need to significantly increase the number of donations we receive each year,” said David Conley, director of WSU’s Willed Body Program (, which has been in place since the early 1970s.

“In addition to the normal structure and function of the body and human variation, students learn about professionalism, death and the deceased” from cadavers, he said. “They learn about the effects of aging and disease.”

Powerful learning tools

A College of Medicine lab at WSU Spokane.

In the anatomy laboratory on the WSU Spokane campus, more than a dozen bodies are in use by University of Washington medical students and health sciences students from WSU and Eastern Washington University.

In Pullman, the bodies are studied by anatomy and kinesiology undergraduates and by University of Idaho pre-med students.

“Students who get the chance to work with these cadavers get so much out of it,” said Ethan Payton, a recent WSU graduate and a teaching assistant in the Pullman lab. “A lot of people who take anatomy classes elsewhere don’t get this opportunity.

“Getting acclimated to working with cadavers will obviously help me in medical school,” he said. “But even deeper than that, it helps me respect that association between the body and the person. I feel that it will give me more understanding, more respect for the patient.”

How to donate

Conley said WSU’s Willed Body Program doesn’t recruit donors.

“A lot of it is through word of mouth, from social workers and health care professionals,” he said. “Donors are grateful for the care they have received from their providers, so when they hear about the program, they want to help and pay it forward.”

But with the demand for bodies about to increase, he said it’s important to let more people know about the opportunity to donate their bodies to medical science.

“I compare a donation to a scholarship,” he said. “Instead of giving money to the university and writing out a check, individuals make a perpetual gift. Our students who learn from their donations take their knowledge forward, all over the world, and become physicians and dentists and pharmacists and nurses – and other people will learn from them.”

Hear Conley talk more about the program at


David Conley, WSU Willed Body Program, 509-358-7519,
Doug Nadvornick, WSU College of Medicine communications, 509-358-7540,



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