Gross Anatomy Memorial Service: Teaching Medicine After Death

Weill Cornell Medical College first-year student Timothy Shea knows full well that the doctor-patient relationship is at the heart of medicine — a message that students can easily lose sight of amid the demands of medical school. Then he took Gross Anatomy.

“”After months of learning countless anatomical structures, the practice of medicine can begin to seem abstract,”” Shea said during the Gross Anatomy Program’s annual memorial service on Dec. 18. “”The suffering that we came to medical school with the hope of ameliorating can seem distant and unreal. Anatomy lab provided a humbling experience that gave meaning to all of the other work that we do.””

For many students, Gross Anatomy is the first course in which the medical and scientific concepts students study in textbooks and diagrams become real. During the memorial service, first-year students acknowledged 52 men and women who bequeathed their bodies to science, thanking them and their families for lessons that will guide them throughout their medical careers.

“”Our donors silently instructed us on the intricacies and complexity of the human anatomy,”” first-year student Ngozi Monu said. “”Lessons on what it takes for us to stand, walk and run. Lessons on what it takes for us to touch, lessons on what it takes to reach out and embrace. Lessons we will never forget.””

Students in groups of four holding bouquets of flowers came forward to speak about the men and women whose selfless, final acts allowed them to experience human anatomy in a new way. Students read poems, performed music and dance tributes.

The 26 men and 26 women honored at the service came from diverse backgrounds and included veterans of the armed forces, teachers, a chef, a taxi driver, and a beauty consultant. While most of the donors lived into their golden years — 11 of them survived into their 90s and two were centenarians — two died at just 43 and 46.

“”Life and vitality are given to Weill Cornell Medical College by these individuals’ generosity and practical gifts,”” said Dr. Estomih Mtui, director of the Gross Anatomy and Body Visualization Program. “”This institution and others thrive on these symbols of human goodwill.””

In memorializing their gross anatomy teachers, the students also celebrated their lives and how they graciously chose to teach even after death.

“”I’m always reminded that this is truly a celebration of many things,”” said Dr. Carol Storey-Johnson, senior advisor for medical education at Weill Cornell. “”It is a celebration of the life of our donors. It is a celebration of the spirit and generosity that allows families to donate their loved ones. And it’s a celebration of teaching and learning and of the incredible transformation that our students are undergoing at this time that will make them ultimately the best professionals in the future.””

Read the full article on the Weill Cornell Medical College page.