What do 1st year medical students do to humanize, or de-humanize, their cadavers?

This month’s question for our medical student bloggers was: When working with your cadaver, did you or your team do anything specific to humanize, or de-humanize, the body?

Jana ChristianJana Christian,  Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
“When I attended my first anatomy lab, I did not know how I would respond to seeing the sacrifice that another person gave.  Would I be paralyzed by the humanity of this person and her former life? Would I solely focus on the mechanics of dissection? We began by removing skin on the arm and chest.  I was very delicate and continue to be. That is what I am most focused on: humanizing the body by doing the best I can to preserve every structure, so that her sacrifice can be utilized to the best of my abilities.”

Eduardo SalazarEduardo Salazar, The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
“In order to humanize our cadavers, our program puts on a Donor Appreciation Ceremony at the end of our anatomy block. This gives students a chance to show their gratitude via music, poetry, or other means. We refer to them as donors rather than cadavers in order to humanize them. It reminds me that these individuals and their families made a choice to contribute to my medical education, and I respect their donation by making the most of the learning experience. Donors play an invaluable role in our training, and I’m grateful to them and to their families.”

NatalieSousBioPicNatalie Sous, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
“When we first saw our cadaver, it was a solemn moment. My dissection team and I talked about the selfless decision this person had made so that we could have a meaningful learning experience. We wondered about his life, and the family he left behind, and the experiences that led him to this decision. We also talked to our anatomy course director about writing a letter to his family to express our gratitude. Our course director was very supportive of the idea, and felt that the family would very appreciative.”

Natalie Strokes

Natalie Strokes, A.T. Still University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona
“When I work with the cadavers during dissection club, I wouldn’t say we necessarily do anything special to de-humanize the body. Depending on what sections we are working on, we try to keep other areas respectfully covered, which also helps preserve the body. I think if anything we tend to humanize the body, especially when we find anomalies that make us wonder what had happened to our cadaver during their life. We have already found a few bodies with unexpected surgeries, making the normal anatomy no longer exist, but nonetheless creating an interesting story that the body can tell us about the once lived life. ”

Evan TorlineEvan TorlineUniversity of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky
“Initially, I think the shock my group experienced caused us to hyperfocus on our lab manual to get through that day’s lab. In doing so, I think we all slipped into a state of detachment. Over time I came to think about this person’s free choice of giving up her body for my education and benefit. It was then that the body became real to me. I began to realize how extraordinary our bodies are, how we are connected through them, and my increasing role in all of it as physician, student and keeper of the body and person.”

Other questions our medical student bloggers have answered: