The dissection experience as a laboratory for self-discovery about death and dying: Another side of clinical anatomy

Authors

  • Sandra L. Bertman,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Medical Humanities and Anatomy, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts
    • Program of Medical Humanities, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester MA 01655
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  • Sandy C. Marks Jr.

    1. Departments of Medical Humanities and Anatomy, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Dissection of the human body raises questions for medical students about the source of bodies, bodily trespass, invasion of privacy, death, dying, and their own mortality. Facing and expressing the aversions, fears, and fantasies associated with human dissection help prepare the student both for academic work in the anatomy laboratory and for the emotional work implicit in patient care. With little additional curricular time within the longitudinal continuity of the dissection course we have developed a program in medical humanities that fosters both skills. This program, heavily dependent upon the arts, uses exposure to painting, film, and literature coupled with reflection, writing, and small group discussions to explore and express students' attitudes toward death and dissection as they experience the first year of medical school. The final session, a service of memoriam and thanksgiving planned and produced by the students, provides an appropriate personal closure of the dissection experience. Our students affirm that such a program, evolving over the past 12 years, has provided a foundation early in medical education for development of caring physician-patient relationships and for continued exploration of humanistic and ethical issues in medicine. These experiences illustrate that clinical anatomy has the potential to contribute to both the art and science of medicine.

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