Gross anatomy is the most defining aspect of the first year medical school experience, and perhaps of all four years. As the first half of the academic year comes to an end, medical schools all over the country are holding memorial services to honor those who generously donated their bodies to medical education. Here’s what Shannon Barrow, a first year at New Jersey Med, shared at their recent service:
Medicine, to me, is personal. So it was important to me that I took a moment at the beginning of the course to name my cadaver Betsy, which reminded me many times throughout the course that she should be treated with the respect that I would show any one of my future patients. In fact she was so special, that she had three names–one from each of our group members.
Though a lot of anatomy went by in a blur, there are three days with Betsy that I will always remember.
The first is day one of anatomy. I was excited about the medical student milestone of meeting my cadaver, but as soon as we started dissecting Betsy’s spinal cord, my heart sank. This was completely counterintuitive to what I wanted to do in medicine–put people back together, heal people.
However, it was day two that I realized I had missed the point. Dr. Vasan came over to our group and told us the story of a cadaver and his family. A man decided one day that he wanted to devote his life to medicine, literally, by donating his body to be studied. He worked out, ate a healthy diet, quit smoking. He wanted to be the best teacher. Of course after he passed, his wishes were fulfilled and he was sent to our medical school to be studied by us medical students. Later on in the course, the family called and asked if the biggest wish their family member had, had been fulfilled. They asked “was great teacher?” Dr. Vasan said he checked, and reported back to the family that in fact the man was an excellent teacher.
The first day of anatomy taught me that Betsy was a person, but the second day taught me that the best way to respect her, is to learn from her.
My last experience with Betsy came after we had finished our dissections with her. I asked permission to bring my Dad in to see her. My brother is the talent in my family. Growing up he has always wanted people to listen to him sing, or play music or sports. My parents always wondered why I never cared if they saw me play sports, or perform at recitals. It’s because I had never found what I loved doing, until medical school.
I was so proud and excited, and so anxious to be able to introduce him to Betsy. My Dad is a machinist, but he listens to his health and nutrition radio talk shows often on his way to and from work, and reads a lot about health topics. In the lab, I quizzed him on parts of the body, and I remember being able to answer all the questions he asked about the body. That is when I realized how much Betsy had taught me.
Even though they’re not here, I would like to thank Betsy’s family for trusting us to give her body the respect she deserves. I will always remember Betsy the cadaver as my first patient, and as one of my greatest teachers.