New Anatomy Lab Welcomes Students to the Future of Education

Dr. Muldoon teaching the very first class in the new space.

Dr. Muldoon teaching the very first class in the new space. Surgical lighting and hardwired cameras will still be added to the wet labs.

Anatomy instruction at NWHSU has a rich legacy. With the opening of the new lab space in fall 2021, generations of students to come will experience that legacy in a cutting-edge learning environment.   

“Our goal with this renovation was not simply to fit our current needs, but to anticipate the needs of future generations of NWHSU students,” said Dr. Deb Bushway. “Designing for the future is a difficult task, and I am thrilled with the thoughtful, flexible, and forward-facing space our team has created.” 

The renovation was made possible by a generous donation from the estate of alumnus Dr. David Mitchell. The space, which was never meant to be an anatomy lab, had been in use for 60 years. This major overhaul brings the lab not just up-to-date, but positions it to grow and shift to fit anatomy instruction in the future.

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Building on a Legacy of Excellence 

Dr. Farrar welcoming the very first class to the new space. Surgical lighting and hardwired cameras will still be added to the wet labs.

Drs. David Farrar and Joseph Muldoon, who teach gross anatomy, were deeply involved in the design of the space. 

The anatomy program is a cornerstone of chiropractic education at NWHSU, and students across programs use the space extensively. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, massage therapy, post-baccalaureate pre-health, and allied health students all utilize the lab for hands-on anatomy instruction.

Drs. Farrar and Muldoon are graduates of the chiropractic program, (in 2014 and 1991 respectively), and understand personally the legacy of anatomy instruction of NWHSU.

“One of the most profound experiences from my training was gross anatomy. That’s why I’m here now,” shared Dr. Muldoon. 

“I think it’s a testament to the teaching history that everyone who graduates from the program has fond memories of the anatomy faculty and experience,” said Dr. Farrar, referencing the work of Dr. Grace Jacobs, Dr. Jane Wittich, Dr. Dan Wallace, and Dr. Kim Swinehart, who all delivered rigorous, high-quality anatomy instruction in the former space. 

“What isn’t remarkable about the memories is the space that we were in,” he continued. “It served its purpose, but it didn’t take the anatomy instruction to the next level. And that’s really what we would like to do.”

An Anatomy Lab Built for the Future 

The renovation not only brings state of the art technology to the space, but creates a learner-focused, accessible environment for students both on- and off-campus. 

As some institutions transition to fully-digital anatomy instruction, NWHSU firmly believes in the value of learning from donor cadavers. “You will never see the amount of variation in digital anatomy as you do with donors,” explained Dr. Muldoon. “Not just from one donor to the next, but from the right side to the left side of the same individual. As clinicians teaching anatomy, we   have the ability to say, ‘Stop! Time-out everyone, you have to see and understand this because you’re going to encounter this in practice.’”

Cameras are hardwired in the two dissection labs to securely transmit to monitors in the adjoining classroom, and also to students who cannot be on campus. Students who attend labs will be able to go back and reference the videos to enhance their learning, and students (including continuing education students) who cannot be on campus can access the irreplicable experience of live dissection from wherever they are. 

Construction of the new lab.

The space is set up to serve current students across programs, but was not built to be rigid. According to Dr. Farrar, the greatly-needed ventilation upgrades will serve for decades, but “the rest of the space is modifiable. So as technology and teaching change over the next 5, 10, 30 years, the space that we have created is elastic.” 

Elasticity and responsiveness are traits NWHSU has successfully practiced over the last year and a half of delivering high-quality instruction during a global pandemic. 

The most recent NBCE Board scores illustrate that NWHSU has been successful in maintaining excellence throughout the transition to hybrid instruction: the school’s pass rate has actually increased through the pandemic. 

“We were able to maintain this level of academic rigor while adapting, and we’re very proud of that,” said Dr. Muldoon.“Our legacy of outstanding anatomy faculty have always done an amazing job with what they had, and now we’re creating a space that will help us reflect that tradition of excellence into the future.”

Innovation Fueled by Generosity 

The anatomy lab renovation was made possible by a generous $1 million donation from the estate of Dr. David Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell graduated from the chiropractic program at NWHSU in 1955 and worked as a chiropractor in Duluth for more than 60 years. 

Dr. Mitchell was deeply involved at NWHSU and with the chiropractic community in Minnesota. He and his wife Betty loved to attend all of the Homecoming events at NWHSU, and he served as president of the Minnesota Chiropractic Association. According to friends and colleagues he was a generous spirit, and for him, chiropractic was a way of life. Dr. Mitchell passed away in 2019. The legacy of his gift to NWHSU will impact students for generations to come. 

Students prepare to start dissections during the first class in the new wet labs.

The gravity and impact of the gift is not lost on those involved in the project. “Dr. Mitchell made this incredibly generous donation, and we want to make him proud,” shared Dr. Farrar. “And we want to make the alumni and students proud of the space we’ve created with that donation.”

Drs. Farrar and Muldoon hope that seeing the impact of this gift may encourage alumni to want to give back, with donations big and small to fund future renovation projects. “We’re hoping that the anatomy lab shows alumni that we’re investing in the future of these programs,” said Dr. Farrar. “And we care not only about the faculty and the rigor of these courses, but also the space in which the learning occurs.” 

The renovation of NWHSU’s anatomy lab will benefit all students at the school, as well as alumni who return for continuing education courses. With gifts of all sizes, our alumni make these improvements possible, playing an important role in ensuring that NWHSU remains a future-facing, rigorous, and welcoming learning community.