Introduction The practice of dissection, as part of undergraduate medical education, has recently resurfaced in the public eye. This paper focuses on a number of important learning outcomes that were reported by Year 1–5 medical students in a British medical school, during the dissection sessions in the first 2 years of their training, as part of a wider qualitative research project into undergraduate medical education.
Methods A group of 29 students was selected by quota sampling, using the whole student population of the medical school as the sampling frame. Qualitative data were collected by 1 : 1 interviews with students and from formal non-participatory observations of dissection sessions.
Results Apart from learning to cope with the overt ‘emotional confrontation’ with the cadavers which assists anatomical learning, 7 additional covert learning outcomes were identified by the students: teamwork, respect for the body, familiarisation of the body, application of practical skills, integration of theory and practice, preparation for clinical work, and appreciation of the status of dissection within the history of medicine.
Discussion A number of medical schools have either removed the practical, hands-on aspect of dissection in the medical undergraduate curriculum or are seriously considering such a measure, on financial and/or human resource grounds. This study highlights the fact that dissection can impart anatomical knowledge as well as offer other relevant, positive learning opportunities to enhance the skills and attitudes of future doctors.