UNM HSC students
By Michael Haederle

Body of Learning

UNM Anatomy Lab Runs Short of Donated Cadavers

For University of New Mexico medical students, long hours spent in the Anatomy Lab meticulously dissecting human cadavers is a cornerstone of their education.

But that education could soon be curtailed, due to a severe shortage of bodies, says Amy Rosenbaum, director of UNM’s Anatomical Donations Program.

The lab needs 75 bodies each year for medical students and resident physicians, as well as students in UNM’s physical therapy, physician assistant and occupational therapy programs. “We are nowhere near close to that,” Rosenbaum says. “Right now, we have 18, so we are struggling." 

Unless more donations are received, anatomy instructors may have to resort to some unusual measures, she says. “We’ve gone so far as to say maybe Group A can dissect one side of the body and Group B can dissect the other,” she says. “We’ve been kicking around all kinds of ideas.”

Amy RosenbaumRosenbaum notes that in the spring of 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, anatomy instruction was provided virtually – and students missed out. “You just lose a lot,” she says. “Seeing it in 3-D and in person is the best way to teach.”

The current shortfall has multiple causes, but fallout from the pandemic seems to be a common factor, she says. “It has had devastating effects on a lot of different industries for a lot of reasons.”

Where previously the program received donated bodies from all over New Mexico, “right now, we’re only taking them in from a 60-mile radius because we have transportation issues,” Rosenbaum says, adding that funeral homes “have just been inundated. They’ve been hit with staffing issues and losses.”

In addition, she says, “We have more people passing away at home. For us, going and picking them up becomes more complicated. It’s just one thing after another.” 

During their stint in the Anatomy Lab, operated by the UNM School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology & Physiology, students learn that each human body is unique, diverging in significant ways from the idealized illustrations presented in textbooks.

Rosenbaum often engages with hospice nurses to ensure that enough cadavers are on hand for the start of the new school year. Many of those who choose to donate their bodies for medical training have backgrounds in education or health care, Rosenbaum says. “They understand the importance of what we do.”

Others opt for donation to avoid burdening their survivors with burial expenses. Bodies typically stay in the lab from 18 to 24 months, after which they are cremated and their ashes are returned to the families. “We take care of it all for them,” she says.

People who are interested in donating their bodies to science must sign notarized documents willing their bodies to the School of Medicine, Rosenbaum says.

Anyone interested in learning more about the UNM Anatomical Donations Program can call (505) 272-5555 or visit the program webpage, Rosenbaum says. “They can call us with anything.”

Interested in UNM's Anatomical Donations Program?

Call us at 505-272-5555 or visit our site at
Categories: Education, Research, School of Medicine, Top Stories