Cadaver Treasure Hunt: Introducing Geriatrics Concepts in the Anatomy Class


Address correspondence to Lynn McNicoll, Rhode Island Hospital, 593 Eddy Street, POB 438, Providence, RI 02903. E-mail:


The objective of this study was to develop an educational program introducing geriatrics to medical students during anatomy. Observational study of an educational intervention in medical school was the design utilized. First-year medical students in an anatomy laboratory were participants.

The program consists of a lecture and a workshop. First, a geriatrics lecture early in the course presents demographic data on the cadavers, followed by comparison with national data on leading causes of death. Second, there is a “treasure hunt” in the anatomy laboratory conducted by geriatricians. Each geriatrician spends 45 minutes with one-four-student cadaver group at a time, reviewing anatomical findings and facilitating a discussion of clinical correlations and implications. A list of common anatomical findings, aging- and disease-related, is distributed to the students as an aid in identifying findings of interest. Students have been surprised to learn that the mean age of the 24 cadavers exceeded 80 years (mean 81, median 85 for 2 years), and that causes of death mirrored national data. The students begin understanding aging and appreciate the valuable resource of cadavers. The students acquire a new holistic perspective regarding their cadavers that is not apparent during the dissections. Students and faculty find the experience valuable in understanding the interplay of disease and aging. Evaluations have been mostly positive (82–87% positive responses). The anatomy lecture and “treasure hunt” experience are unique strategies for using cadavers to introduce geriatrics principles into the medical school.