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Keywords:

  • anatomy;
  • medical education;
  • humanism;
  • death and dying;
  • cadaver dissection;
  • humanistic approach;
  • education;
  • ethics

Abstract

Anatomy remains one of the core courses of medical school, but the time devoted to it is decreasing. To accommodate the explosion of medical knowledge, educators search to streamline the curriculum. Because it is time-consuming, dissection comes under increased scrutiny. Even in the face of these pressures to reduce course hours, I would like to propose broadening, not reducing, the responsibilities of the anatomy instructor. Anatomy instructors can play a crucial role in helping medical schools meet the critical need to cultivate humanistic values, especially in the arena of end-of-life care. Anatomy can—and should—play an important role in a curriculum-wide effort to address this issue. Just as dissection remains an essential technique to teach three-dimensional concepts, the cadaver dissection lab is an ideal place to introduce concepts of humanistic care. The lab evokes the students' memories, speculations, and fears about serious illness in themselves, their families, and loved ones. Some programs address these reactions with supplemental activities, such as journaling, essay writing, and small group discussion. Valuable as these activities may be, anatomy instructors can achieve more by recognizing their role as a mentor, who can integrate humanistic values into traditional course objectives in a way that adds little time to the curriculum. The attitude of the instructor in ministering to the students' needs as they undertake the emotionally charged task of dissection can provide a model for how the students will respond, in turn, to the hopes and fears of their patients—and to their own reactions to dying. This approach will allow students to implement and practice humanistic values immediately, laying a foundation for their clinical training. Anat Rec (New Anat) 269:242–248, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.