Medical students traditionally dissect human cadavers to examine and memorize every part of the human body. According to a report published in “Perspectives in Medical Education” by the National Institutes of Health, donor cadavers are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. At the same time, an increase in the number of medical students schools to question the necessity of cadaver dissection. Medical schools are exploring alternative methods for med students to learn anatomy.

First-year medical students in a pilot program at the University of California San Francisco Medical School use virtual reality goggles to explore and take apart bodies in addition to classroom and hands-on training with cadavers. The VR setup and software allow students to isolate anatomical structures and layers to view the relationships between muscles, nerves, and organs. Students can take the inspections to microscopic levels. Unlike working with real cadavers, the students can also replace body parts to rebuild the VR cadaver all the way to the skin: an impossibility with real bodies. Another advantage of VR anatomy study is the ability to view structures from all angles in isolation from other body parts.

For now, the UCSF pilot program does not substitute VR for real cadavers. The VR experience enhances traditional dissection and textbook work. Med students in the program also work with VR trauma patients to accustom them to various types of severe injuries before working with real patients.