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Keywords:

  • gross anatomy education;
  • medical education;
  • laboratory dissection;
  • medical students;
  • cadaver naming;
  • medical humanities;
  • coping mechanisms;
  • medical professionalism

The teaching of gross anatomy has, for centuries, relied on the dissection of human cadavers, and this formative experience is known to evoke strong emotional responses. The authors hypothesized that the phenomenon of cadaver naming is a coping mechanism used by medical students and that it correlates with other attitudes about dissection and body donation. The authors developed a 33-question electronic survey to which 1,156 medical students at 12 medical schools in the United States voluntarily responded (November 2011–March 2012). They also surveyed course directors from each institution regarding their curricula and their observations of students' coping mechanisms. The majority of students (574, 67.8%) named their cadaver. Students most commonly cited the cadaver's age as the reason they chose a particular name for the cadaver. A minority of the students who did not name the cadaver reported finding the practice of naming disrespectful. Almost all students indicated that they would have liked to know more about their donor, particularly his or her medical history. Finally, students who knew the birth name of the donor used it less frequently than predicted. The authors found that the practice of naming cadavers is extremely prevalent among medical students and that inventive naming serves as a beneficial coping mechanism. The authors suggest that developing a method of providing students with more information about their cadaver while protecting the anonymity of the donor and family would be useful. Anat Sci Educ 7: 169–180. © 2013 American Association of Anatomists.