Graham Whiteside says his “why” is powerful.
It’s this: he cares about the quality and skills of future health care workers.
“I’m going to need them very soon,” said Whiteside on the recent Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast. “So, I want them to be the very best they can be.”
(Watch his thoughtful insights and commentary on YouTube here.)
In 2015, that desire led Whiteside to partner with Gubener Plastinate, the creator of real human specimens preserved through plastination. Whiteside launched a company called Anatomic Excellence, which serves as the exclusive full range agent for the acquisition of von Hagens Plastination specimens in Canada, the Caribbean, and The United States. The specimens that Whiteside provides to schools and medical universities are produced via the same process and by the same company behind the exhibits seen in Body Worlds, the most visited traveling exhibit of all time.
Whiteside’s work with plastination specimens was preceded by nine years of work with a variety of other health care education companies and special interest organizations including Limbs & Things, B-Line Medical, SIMnext, the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, and the Global Network for Simulation in Healthcare.
Whiteside was born into his healthcare and education career. His father, Frank Whiteside, was a State Registered Nurse in the British Royal Army Medical Corps. Graham frequently served as the audience (of one) as his father practiced his medical talks and demonstrations. Graham went on to train and work as a General & Cardiothoracic ICU and Psychiatric Nurse. In 2000, Graham earned his bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science with First Class Honors at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
The partnership with Gubener Plastinate came about through a fortunate moment when Whiteside was setting up a Limbs & Things booth at the Ottawa Medical Education Conference in 2014. He noticed the adjacent booth included preserved body parts, which reminded him of the Body Worlds exhibits he had seen. He also recalled watching Dr. Gunter von Hagen work on a televised dissection, too.
And then in walked Gunter von Hagen and his son Rurik “and it was like a rock star had walked in, in some respects, because of the way other people reacted.”
As booth neighbors, the chitchat began, a friendship developed, and Whiteside casually asked who represented the company in the United States and Canada. The rest, as they say, is history.
For a small company, says Whiteside, Anatomic Excellence is “doing fairly well” in getting specimens to a select number of medical schools and universities. Whiteside says he has seen signs of a “compression” in the teaching of the Basic Sciences in medical and health care education. This is a result of advances in medical knowledge and the need to teach a broader range of subjects in the undergraduate curriculum, such as immunology or genetics. As result of this compression and other changes to the structure of education delivery, he says, “you no longer have time to dissect the whole body over a whole year.”
Whiteside says the selling points of Anatomical Excellence specimens are clear—the ability to teach anatomy over a prolonged period of time without any degradation of the specimens, the ability to teach in any multi-purpose classroom and no need to build special dissection labs, configure ventilation, and deal with all the related chemical issues.
Whiteside says plastinate specimens are often purchased to address specific issues in instruction—for instance, in the study of pelvic, perineum, head, neck or neurological specimens. “The dissection to the level of detail that we can get to is beyond the time constraints of most programs.” says Whiteside. “So, we fix those problems for them with one or two specimens.”
The Anatomic Excellence specimens include Silicone Plastinates, Sheet Plastinates, Anatomy Glass (high resolution glass prints of body slices), Blood Vessel Configurations, Skeletons and Skulls. Van Hagens Plastination will also design bespoke dissections to meet specific curricular needs.
The plastinates, says Whiteside, are only a tool for teaching but, he adds, it’s the “enthusiasm from users … that carries me forward.”
Whiteside says he relishes the opportunity to encourage improvements in the quality of education in the medical and healthcare fields.
“I know I’m just a very small cog in a very large machine, and I'm very happy being that,” says Whiteside. “The ability to influence in my role, I think, supersedes what I could ever achieve as a nurse at the bedside. I'm able to sort of put things in front of people that can influence thousands of future practitioners.”
Yes, Graham Whiteside knows his “why.”