Success Stories

Anatomist works like an artist

When Will Merbs talks about his work, it’s like an artist discussing a blank canvas.

A man in love with his job? You bet. Even if it involves teaching more than 400 medical school students how to properly dissect a cadaver.

Merbs graduated from Grand Valley in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. For most of the year, he is a lab director and anatomy instructor at St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies. During the summer, Merbs returns to Grand Rapids to teach anatomy to surgical residents at Spectrum Health.

“Basically, I never left the lab,” he said. “I started teaching immediately after I got my Grand Valley degree and I’ve been teaching since.”

Merbs has been fascinated by anatomy and how the body works since he was about 8 years old. Tim Strickler, professor of anatomy in the Biomedical Sciences Department, said Merbs’ passion and knowledge of anatomy helps make him a good teacher for a difficult subject.

“He is very detail-oriented in his preparation and teaching, and he is a very talented artist with the ability to use drawings and figures to explain anatomical features which are difficult to grasp from words alone,” Strickler said.

After graduation, Merbs taught classes at Grand Valley and Spectrum until a former GVSU professor called from the Caribbean. “Brian Curry was in St. George’s and called and asked if I wanted a change of scenery,” he said.

He went and was offered a teaching fellowship at St. George’s School of Medicine in Grenada, Merbs coordinates the labs and teaches some courses. About 80 percent of the school’s students are American, he said. “U.S. medical schools have kept their class sizes the same for years. Rather than being put on a waiting list, many students will apply to St. George’s,” Merbs said.

With so much medical training, some of Merbs’ friends pester him about becoming a surgeon. “Surgeons don’t have time to explore the body when they’re in surgery,” he said. “An anatomist can explore, and help surgeons find new methods of treatment.”

There are 10 faculty members in the anatomy department at St. George’s. Merbs said students rotate through living anatomy sections, cadaver labs and dry labs, which are used for case studies and imaging. And despite using the same cadaver repeatedly, Merbs said he can find endless ways to teach students about the inner workings of the body.

“The body is like a piece of art. You can take an old piece and rework it into a new sculpture,” he said.

Photo: At left, Tim Strickler, professor of anatomy in the Biomedical Sciences Department, visits former student Will Merbs (right) and a colleague at St. George’s University in Grenada.

by Michele Coffill

This story was filed with the tags: Health, Impressive Jobs, Undergraduate Alumni