Do Pharmacy Students Dissect Cadavers?

pharmacy student cadaver

Pharmacy is a broad field. There are many types of pharmacies. It could be a community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, clinical pharmacy, ambulatory care pharmacy, consultant pharmacy, internet pharmacy, compounding pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, veterinary pharmacy, specialty pharmacy, among others.

The scope of pharmacy includes traditional compounding services and it also includes modern services connected to health care services, clinical services, providing drug information, and efficacy. Pharmacists play a crucial role in making the patients feel better and get them well faster. Students choose pharmacy because they want to help people get well and enjoy a wide variety of career opportunities. In this article, we will discuss whether pharmacy students dissect cadavers. Let’s start with an overview of the pre-pharmacy course curriculum.


General biology or pre-pharmacy is the 2-year course for undergraduate pharmacy students. To move forward to the 4-year Pharm.D program, the students must complete pre-pharmacy (2-year course) first. This criterion is basically followed in all the colleges of the United States. It could vary from college to college.

Some colleges also have the combined course of pre-pharmacy and PharmD for 5 to 6 years course duration. For pre-pharmacy, each college has its own syllabus. Basically, it covers chemistry, biology or anatomy, physiology, mathematics, English and physics.

The pre-pharmacy course will help you in getting admission to pharmacy school. In the course, general biology becomes a very crucial one. Colleges look for students with diverse educational experiences. Completion of the pre-pharmacy course does not mean you will get the guaranteed admission to PharmD College. Even if the pre-pharmacy course you have gone through is linked to the same school, you don’t get any guaranteed entry to PharmD. In the general biology of pre-pharmacy, it includes the dissecting of frogs, cats, etc. The practicals in the course increase the understanding of students.

The requirements for getting an entry into the pre-pharmacy course could vary from college to college. Hence, before you apply for pre-pharmacy at any college, make sure you check out the requirements and know whether you are eligible to apply or not. Basically, pre-pharmacy is designed to make students prepare for their Pharma.D education, as it provides educational background in biology, mathematics and health science.

If you are planning to do a pre-pharmacy course or you have already completed it, then one thing you have to keep in mind that – there is no guarantee that after the pre-pharm course you will get an entry to Pharm.D College. This is why after the completion; you should complete an internship somewhere so that it gets added to your resume. When you have completed an internship, there are more chances that you get accepted to your favorite pharmacy school.

Also, you will not get a license of becoming a pharmacist after completing this course. This course is designed especially for aspiring pharmacists. To get the licensure, you must complete the Pharm.D program. And, you have to gain the license before getting to employment.


As we have seen, if you want to get entry to the pharmacy school for further Pharma.D studies, you must have to complete the pre-pharmacy program first. If you do not complete the pre-pharmacy program, you cannot get entry to any pharmacy school for Pharma.D education. Also, if you want to get the admission for pre-pharmacy course, you have to go through the admission test.

The admission test conducted for the program ensures whether you have sufficient knowledge required for further studies or not. Once you complete the pre-pharmacy course, you have to work on getting an entry for Pharma.D. Once you get the entry, it may take 4 to 5 years in the completion of the program. It covers topics such as pharmacology, drug therapy, and patient care.

To become a licensed professional pharmacist in the United States, the students must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam. After you pass everything, finally become a licensed pharmacist.


Dissection is a process included in the pharmacy program in which different animals like the frog, cats, etc. are being dissected to analyze the structure and function of its components. During the pre-pharmacy course, you see a human cadaver. Most colleges have a cadaver lab.

Hence, during the pharmacy, students dissect human cadavers. The main benefit of dissection of human cadavers is the prevention of human disease to the dissector. In most of the processes of dissection, it involves the careful isolation and removal of individual organs, which is known as Virchow technique.

The Odor of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a simple chemical compound that was discovered in the year 1856 by August Wilheld Von Hofmann. Formaldehyde is a noxious flammable gas and very soluble in water. The main use of this gas is to preserve cadavers in the departments of anatomy. The formaldehyde chemical compound gas is made up of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.

Apart from being used in the preservation of cadavers, this chemical is also used in various areas such as building & construction, personal care & consumer products, and automobiles. It is a well-established preservative for cadavers in the anatomy for many years.

The only difficult thing for pharmacy students is to deal with the smell of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde chemical compound gas has the strange odor that most of the pharmacy students find it unpleasant. The smell of formaldehyde is unique and it cannot be described in words.

The odor of formaldehyde is very much repulsive and nose-pinching. The smell can burn your nose and respiratory tract. The biggest challenge for pharmacy students is to deal with the odor of formaldehyde. Whether pharmacy students like it or not, they must have to deal with it while learning at pharmacy labs in their colleges. Formaldehyde is being used in the preservation of human and animal cadavers in the labs.

As there are regular visits to the lab during the pharmacy, as a student, you have to face the same situation daily. So, how you can deal with the Formaldehyde smell during your pharmacy education?

How Pharmacy students should deal with the odor of Formaldehyde?

Basically, there is no special trick using which you can completely avoid the odor of Formaldehyde. But, you can use some tricks for reducing its smell. The popular way students use to avoid the odor is by making the use of Vicks Vaporub.

Vicks vaporub has a strong smell, using which you can reduce the smell of Formaldehyde. You can spread some Vicks vaporub on the vertical crease between your lips and nose. You can also put a bit dab of it on it is your facemask. This is also a good way to avoid the odor of formaldehyde.

The students of pharmacy find the odor of formaldehyde unpleasant because they have never experienced it earlier. As you are starting out, it might smell unpleasant to you. But, after some time, you get used to the smell of formaldehyde and other chemicals you use at your pharmacy school.

Hence, for getting started, you can make the use of Vicks vaporab by spreading on the vertical crease between your lips and nose. You will not look for any way to avoid the smell of various chemicals and compounds used in the pharmacy lab after you get used to it. All you have to focus is on learning the things rather than focusing on why it smells differently and how you can avoid the smell.

The Anxiety of First Cadaver Demonstration

Anatomy is very crucial in the education of pharmacy. It is the art of studying various parts of an organized body. It consists of science with the form and structure of organic bodies hence anatomy is the base of medical and health professional education. Anatomic dissection is very important because it helps in the examination of the organs in the human cadavers in a systematic manner.

The level of anxiety differs from student to student. Some students express a positive attitude their first experience with cadaver laboratory demonstration while some students get into the mental distress, exhaustion, and depression in the form of a higher level of anxiety state.

Focusing on cadaver demonstration is very important because it works as a practical examination and learning for the students. But, the demonstration may get depressed for new students. This is for new students, who haven’t faced such kind of conditions.

There was a study conducted at Edge University to the 2009 – 2010 students. And, the study by the university aimed to analyze the effect of the demonstration of first cadaver and its anxiety of medical, dental and pharmacy students.

In the study by Edge University, a questionnaire was distributed to 486 students and the review of anxiety revealed situations such as depression, stress, exhaustion, destructive life, deterioration of mental or physical quality and anxiety on the students. There was a medium level of anxiety detected in the students in their first encounter with the cadaver.

After the study, the state anxiety score average was calculated by all the students who took part in the research. And, it was found that the state anxiety score average of male students was higher than that of the female students while trait anxiety scores of the female students were found to be higher than that of the male students.

This research clearly proves our cultural life of society considering and forcing male students into a strong behavioral pattern. Here, in the study by Edge University, it clearly proves the psychology of our society to be wrong.

How to Reduce Anxiety State of Dissection & First Cadaver Demonstration?

There is no guaranteed way by implementing which you would be able to avoid your level of anxiety in the first cadaver demonstration. But, there is an effective way through which you can reduce the level of anxiety during the first cadaver demonstration. If you are about to face the first cadaver demonstration or dissection, then this is for you.

Another research has shown that many students express positiveness towards the first cadaver demonstration or dissection while many students get into stress and depression. It was also found that this stress, exhaustion, depression, and anxiety lessens after the first dissection or laboratory experience of the students.

Another study was conducted to investigate the level of the stressfulness of students after the dissection and cadaver demonstrations. Before the demonstration, a short, less than one-minute voluntary mindful exercise was conducted into the pre-laboratory sessions. The short mindful exercise intended to check whether it can help reduce anxiety levels during dissection and cadaver demonstration.

Self-reported anxiety was measured through the visual analog scale (VAS) and a validated 6-item abbreviated form of the Spielberger state-trait anxiety inventory survey (6-STAI). This survey was conducted before the mindful exercise, after the mindful exercise, before the laboratory and after laboratory (to get gather correct information). With this study, it was found that the short mindful exercise became really effective in reducing the pre-laboratory anxiety in the students.

Here, we can conclude that the short mindful exercise before the laboratory can make a great impact on the anxiety level of the students. So, if you want to reduce the anxiety state of dissection and first cadaver demonstration in your pharmacy course, doing a short mindful exercise can be a good idea.

Final Thoughts

Dissection is the process included in the pharmacy program in which animals are being dissected to analyze the structure and function of its components. Apart from animals such as frog and cats, you may also have to see human cadavers during your pre-pharmacy course. Most of the colleges with anatomy courses have a separate cadaver lab.

You have anatomy class in which you are taken up to the cadaver lab of your pharmacy school and dissect & demonstrate the human cadavers. Students are also afraid of the odor of Formaldehyde. To most students, the smell of formaldehyde is unpleasant.

But, after some time, you get used to the smell of formaldehyde and other chemicals you use at your pharmacy school. And, you will not look any way to avoid its smell afterward. So, in this article, we have shared about the pre-pharmacy course, the odor of formaldehyde and the anxiety of the first cadaver demonstration.


Danielle Winner

Hello my name is Danielle Winner. Welcome to my site on Pharmacy School and tips and tricks to hopefully help you get in. It's not easy but hopefully you can learn to not make mistakes that students (myself included) make. Good luck on your journey. I graduated from Albany School of Pharmacy in May 2010 and have had a few different jobs across the east coast of the U.S.

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