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New UI anatomy lab opens its doors

By Scott Jackson Moscow-Pullman Daily News

For the first time in 45 years, University of Idaho medical students will no longer have to divide their time between the UI and Washington State University campuses.

With the opening of a state-of-the-art anatomy lab this week, housed in the new Gritman Medical Office building on the south end of Moscow’s Main Street, this spring marks the first semester UI medical students will be able to use the new facility.

In years past, UI students were tasked with driving to Pullman to use anatomy facilities at WSU.

“Historically, for 45 years, we were partnering with WSU and we had 20 students over at WSU and 20 students over here in Idaho,” Jeff Seegmiller, UI program director, said. “We actually took classes together with faculty from both campuses and we shipped our students, literally all week long, from one campus to the other.”

Students studying medicine at UI do so through the WWAMI program – a partnership through the University of Washington’s School of Medicine which works with universities in the Northwest to offer students affordable medical training outside of Washington state. “WWAMI” is an acronym for participating states – Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Seegmiller said changes in the program, including heavier class sizes, prompted the need for another lab. At the UI program alone, Seegmiller said, the enrollment has grown from 20 Idaho residents to 40.

“We also changed it so that students were spending not just one year on our main campus here, but two years on our main campus,” Seegmiller said.

He said that resulted in 80 students on the UI campus, quadrupling the initial size of the program.“

The new lab features doubled rows of sterile, steel tables – each housing a cadaver – under operating lights and a monitor where students can view scans of their deceased “patients.” Situated on the northeast corner of the building, two walls of the lab are lined with large bay windows – one of Seegmiller’s favorite features. He called the new anatomy lab “one of the best in the world.”

“Most anatomy labs are in the basement, kind of hidden away and lighting is poor, ventilation is usually poor and so we worked with our architects to really design state-of-the-art facilities,” Seegmiller said. “It changes the experience when you’re teaching anatomy in here – it becomes really kind of a joyful experience.”

The new space, rented through a partnership with Gritman Medical Center, occupies much of the third floor and includes the lab itself as well as a room for instructional classes and a huge, ultra-modern lounge area for students to study.

With so much of modern education happening outside of the classroom, Seegmiller said lounge areas where students can work on their own time are becoming more and more critical.

“This usually is packed most of the day. Right now most of the students are out doing their clinical experiences,” Seegmiller said, gesturing at the assorted seating areas and sofas. “They use this 24/7 really – they’re studying, taking notes (and) preparing for the next day of class.”

Seegmiller said he mentioned to the architects the design and decoration of the space should speak to a journey through the human body. With this idea in mind, Seegmiller said the architects used the 1960s film “Fantastic Voyage” – which depicts shrunken secret agents on a Cold War-era secret mission inside the body of a Soviet scientist – for inspiration. The film, now a cult-classic, won an Academy Award in 1966 for best art direction.

Seegmiller said the current expansion, worth about $3 million, brings UI its very own, world-class anatomy lab, but it’s only the first step. In a larger project worth about $6 million, Seegmiller said UI is renovating a building on the eastern edge of campus devoted to additional classroom space for WWAMI students expected to be finished in June.

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