Indiana State University Newsroom

Students, psychology interns look inside the human brain

June 4, 2012

Psychology interns and health care professionals from the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex got a glimpse inside the human mind - literally - during a workshop at Indiana State University's gross anatomy lab.

Students completing master's degrees in physician assistant studies used cadaver brains to point out for the interns central and peripheral nervous system structures associated with psychopathic disorders.

The experience will help the interns, who had no previous exposure to neuro-anatomy or gross anatomy labs, better explain health care issues to inmates and other patients, said Herbert "Buddy" Coard, a psychologist with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

"Psychology is about health psychology, too. Sometimes it's about improving people's health conditions," Coard said. "Somebody may approach us and maybe they've had some heart disease and maybe they're trying to improve their life. Maybe they're depressed and want to know why exercise would be important. Being able to see some of the correlates of not exercising and developing atherosclerosis, and being able to communicate that to our patients, is very helpful."

The interns saw and held a human liver that weighed 6.5 pounds, more than three times its normal weight.

"Our interns now have a different perspective when they're talking with someone who has liver disease," Coard said. "It's one thing to be able to talk about it and say, ‘your liver's not doing well because you continue drinking, or whatever your behavior is' but to actually see it allows us to better be able to communicate with our patients and to educate them about their diseased states."

Indiana State's physician assistant students who were called upon to teach anatomy for the afternoon gained confidence as a result of the experience, said Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training.

"Anytime that you can integrate a situation in a class where you are asking students you just taught to then take what they've learned and teach somebody else, they're going to retain that information more," Yeargin said.

The session also allowed interns and staff from the correctional complex - including psychologist supervisors, certified physician assistants and nurse practitioners - to share insight with about 30 Indiana State students who will soon be health care practitioners in their own right.

The event reflected the ISU College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services' commitment to inter-professional education and health care, said Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training.

"We thought the physician assistant students, since they're currently in their anatomy class, could teach our guests what they've been doing with the cadaver brains as the rest of the cadaver bodies," Yeargin said. "Then in turn the interns and the officers could teach the physician assistant students about psychopathic disorders and their common signs and symptoms - things that the physician assistant students, when they become clinicians, could look for in their patients."

By the end of the more than two-hour workshop, it was apparent students and interns weren't the only ones to benefit.

"Even though I'm kind of a seasoned professional, it allows me to continue growing and thinking about things in a different way," Coard said. "Certainly the lab here has allowed me to continue to grow also and we really appreciate it."

While the session was the first of its kind for faculty and students in the ISU department of applied medicine and rehabilitation and for interns and staff from the correctional complex, it will not be the last, organizers said.

"We will have three more interns next year and we certainly would like for them to have a similar experience," said Coard.

Photo: - Markay Wilson (left), a master's student in Indiana State University's physician assistant studies program, points out features of the human brain as ISU student Stephanie Tobin and two psychology interns from the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex look on during a workshop at the university's Gross Anatomy Lab April 18, 2012. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Photo: - Sarah Hogue, a master's student in physician assistant studies at Indiana State University, examined a human brain during a workshop in the university's Gross Anatomy Lab April 18, 2012. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Photo: - A human brain lies ready for inspection in the Gross Anatomy Lab at Indiana State University's Sycamore Center for Wellness and Applied Medicine. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or