Presented by: Dr Radha Modgi, General practitioner, in association with The Human Tissue Authority, adopted with thanks for The BBC
1. The ultimate gift
I never saw her face. I’ll never know her name, what she did for a living or if she had any family. But I’m so grateful to the woman who helped me become a doctor.
I remember clearly the day I ‘met’ my body. It was my first term at medical school and everyone was nervous about anatomy class. There was a strange mix of curiosity and anxiety. I’m quite a sensitive and emotional person – as well as worrying if I’d faint in front of my new colleagues, I was scared I might be overwhelmed by sadness.
But once I got into the dissecting room, fascination took over any initial trepidation. During the course of the year, as we became familiar with the amazing structures of the human body, our respect grew for the people who had given us the ultimate gift.
2. Respect for our finest assets
When you enter the dissection room you encounter a unique environment – bright lights, the strong smell of embalming fluid, a drop in temperature and a sense of studious hush.
The donor’s dignity is key. As students we were told the person’s age and what they died from. Cloths conceal personal areas, and a larger cloth is draped over the entire body. If we were dissecting a certain area we’d keep the rest of the body covered.
We were split into small groups, carrying out dissections twice a week for a couple of hours at a time. Tutors walked around the different groups, helping and explaining. I remember thinking – wow, the body is truly remarkable when you see it like this!
3. Keeping it real
Some medical schools use ‘prosections’ to teach anatomy. This is where the body is dissected by a tutor – rather than the students – and the parts preserved so that students can be shown the different structures.
Other medical schools use 3D computer models. Medics are divided on the advantages of these hands-off methods over actual dissection.
I personally feel it’s a privilege to dissect a body. You’re really learning about the anatomy and discovering the structures for yourself. It’s the gold standard of training.
Also, because groups of students dissect different bodies, everyone can go and see what their colleagues are doing – particularly if there’s an unusual structure.
This teaches us that, although there’s a standard template of anatomy, human beings aren’t identical.
It’s very helpful later when, as a doctor, you’re trying to treat the individual rather than a text book.
4. Final bow
My small group dissected the same body for the whole year. It sounds a bit odd, but you do get attached to that body.
You appreciate that they were a person, someone who had a life and feelings. So when you left them at the end of the year it was quite emotional.
My medical school, along with many others, holds memorial services for the people who donate their bodies. We students attended to show our deep appreciation.
Family members were also there, but we weren’t told who they were related to. It was sad, but it helped you see the value of what these people had done.
We had all grown up a little bit, having been confronted with death as part of life. We were also left with a sense of the beauty of the body – its mechanics, engineering and intricacies.