The process of dissecting cadavers in an anatomy lab has long been an important part of a medical school's core curriculum. No textbook drawing of muscles, ligaments, vessels and organs could ever replace the lessons available to a first-year medical student examining a real human body.
For the donor's family, however, their loved one becoming a subject for students can be difficult to process. The Ceremony of Thanks at UCLA is, therefore, an important time for both families of donors and medical students alike.
The right choice
The first half of the ceremony includes presentations by medical students, who take the opportunity to thank donors' families and share their experiences from anatomy lab. However, it is actually the second half of the ceremony, according to medical student Yuliya Zekster, that provides reassurance to donors' families that their relatives made the right choice. "A lot of families feel guilty about not having had a traditional funeral service for their relatives," she says. "The Ceremony of Thanks at UCLA is huge in how it brings students and families together to allow the families to see that their loved ones were respected and truly appreciated in the lab. In fact, many families end up asking about how they too can sign up for the donor program — a huge testament to the value of this ceremony."
This year, students also wrote notes that were displayed around the ceremony for reading by the donors' families, who were then given the opportunity to write notes back in response.
Respect for the donor
Reflecting on her time in anatomy lab, Zekster was very appreciative of how respectful this program in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA was of each donor. "Our first lab session was actually spent watching a video of a donor talking about the thought process behind signing up for the program," she explains. "[This footage] really helps to remind us that each donor really was a living, breathing person at one time."
But the lessons she learned from lab went beyond memorizing human anatomy. "It's easy to get really focused on working on just one part of the body in lab, and you forget to step back and see the donor as a whole. But when you take the time to do that, [you're] amazed by just how incredible the human body is," Yuliya realizes. "Likewise, sometimes doctors can get so focused on a patient's illness, but just stepping back and reframing their mindset can help them remember to see that patient as a whole person again."
By Carolyn Mau
Image source: Van Vooren, Allison (Medical Student)