Talking about death: Implementing peer discussion as a coping mechanism to overcome fears about dissection, death, and dying

Authors

  • Sanet Henriët Kotzé,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Anatomy and Histology, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, South Africa
    • Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, P.O.Box 19063, Tygerberg 7505, South Africa
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  • Calvin Gerald Mole

    1. Division of Anatomy and Histology, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, South Africa
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Abstract

Many studies have reported on the perceptions of medical students toward dissection. It is important to understand the feelings and symptoms experienced during dissection so that they can be adequately handled. Prior to dissection, first year students are given lectures on aspects of dissection, death and dying, and death rituals in various cultures. Two separate questionnaires, one given during the first week of dissection and another given one month into the program were then completed anonymously by dissection groups. The questions were designed to be open-ended, thereby encouraging group discussion amongst students. The questionnaires were used to determine the perception of students to dissection and to discover if these perceptions change during the dissection program. The first questionnaire revealed that students do experience fears and anxiety prior to and at the beginning of dissection; however, most of these fears dissipated by the time of the second questionnaire. One month into dissection students cited talking to peers as their main coping mechanism and fewer students mentioned emotional detachment from their cadaver as a coping mechanism, as was the case in the first questionnaire. Dissection was perceived as a positive experience by our student cohort and most students cited the main advantage of dissection as the ability to visualize organs in three dimensions. The comprehensive answers received from the students indicated that thorough discussion of feelings amongst peers occurred, introducing students to an important coping mechanism at an early stage of their learning. Anat Sci Educ. © 2013 American Association of Anatomists.

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