The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Returning to Galen: Body Surrogates in the Classroom

Medical School, University of Nottingham

Female undergraduate student working in Clinical Skills Centre within the University of Nottingham Medical School.

For centuries, the dissection of human cadavers has been an important pedagogical experience for medical students, one that enables students to understand complex anatomical structures. Today, however, this method of learning is beginning to decline. Many medical schools cannot afford the costs associated with maintaining dissection labs.

Such obstacles can be overcome with recent advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality, and new techniques in preserving bodies, such as plastinated prosections. Once considered to be one of the most important hands-on lessons in a medical student’s education, the dissection of a human cadaver is being replaced with digital lessons. These new surrogates are helping to bring 21st century medical education back to the time of Galen in the 1st century CE, a time when animal surrogates stood in for the human body.  

With new technologies driving medical education, questions arise as to whether or not students are gaining the essential and complex knowledge needed to become physicians. Are students truly prepared for what they will encounter when assessing patients? Is the use of technology returning medical students to a state where they may not be fully prepared to heal or to operate due to the lack of "hands-on" experience?