Atlanta radiologist Clay Haskins retired to western North Carolina seven months ago, but his longtime office companion will stay in medicine, taking a new role at the Henderson County Health Sciences Center.

Skeleton in box“Bernard,” a fully intact, articulated human skeleton, has been donated to Wingate University’s Harris Department of Physician Assistant Studies. Temporarily tucked away for safekeeping while administrators shop for a display case, the skeleton that belonged to Haskins for 37 years will be welcomed to the classroom next semester.

“We teach anatomy in the fall,” says Taylor Fischer, assistant professor. “We are looking into how to use him as an effective teaching tool, without compromising him.”

Although more fragile than artificial anatomy models, an actual human skeleton will benefit students in several ways, Fischer says.

“For one thing, real people have real pathology, and their bones aren’t typically perfect. One can see how time and daily living affects the body,” he explains. “There’s also the less tangible advantage of seeing what a human being looks like on the inside. It’s hard to get the emotional component of life from plastic.”

skeleton_donation_Wargo, 2 others with skeleton closeupHaskins, who bought “Bernard” from an anatomist during his first year at the Medical College of Georgia, said having “the real deal” instead of using photos or illustrations as he studied allowed him a more thorough understanding of anatomy. He also echoed Fischer’s idea of emotional connection and the need to treat patients as individuals.

“A mannequin, these days, is androgynous, not male, not female, not a blond, brunette or redhead. This is an individual,” he says. “The shape of this thigh bone may be a little different than the shape of someone else’s, although it is still a femur. We all come from common stock, but the person in front of you is a unique individual.”

Haskins says that even as practitioners struggle to remain objective, they should remember that each patient “is a person with thoughts, dreams, needs, fears and concerns.”

“Part of your responsibility is to take care of the whole person, not just a gall bladder or a broken bone,” he says.

It was in part Clay and Rebecca Haskins’ reverence for the human body that landed “Bernard” in Wingate’s PA program on Jan. 18. “My wife was saying, ‘You’re semi-retired now. What are you going to do with the skeleton?’” Haskins says. “I realized that it needed to be used or buried.”

That’s when he thought of Wingate University. As an interventional radiologist at the VA Medical Center and Emory University, Haskins has worked with PA students in training and as colleagues, and he had heard about Wingate’s Hendersonville campus, which is about five minutes from his Laurel Park home.

Fischer is glad that word is spreading about the PA program, which began educating students in 2013 and moved into the new Health Sciences Center on Sixth Avenue late last year.

“We’re a small campus, and I meet people daily who don’t know a PA school exists in Hendersonville,” Fischer said. “For this doctor to seek us out means we’re starting to get some recognition.”

Fischer said the skeleton, valued at over $4,000, is also a wonderful conversation piece to add to the 100,000-square-foot building.

“I feel like I’m walking onto the campus of a major medical university when I step inside the door, and this acquisition enhances that feeling,” he said. “It also allows us a unique teaching experience not necessarily offered at every PA school.”

Feb. 3, 2017