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.
However, a donor’s family may have a hard time accepting their loved one as a subject for students. The Ceremony of Thanks at UCLA is an important time for both donor families and medical students.
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, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM) class of 2018, 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."
- Yuliya Zekster, medical student
"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."
In previous years, students wrote notes the donors’ families could read and respond to during the ceremony.
Reflecting on her time in anatomy lab, Zekster appreciates how the program respects the donors. "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."
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