Anatomy educators have long understood the role that professionalism education plays in the dissection laboratory. The process of dissecting human material forces students to address such issues as human mortality, their responsibility to the vulnerability of the deceased, their privileged position in society, and their commitment to scientific ideals. Educators have offered a wealth of opinions and curricula dedicated to teaching professionalism in first-year anatomy courses. That they have risen to this challenge is laudable. However, professionalism education is a longitudinal process of acculturation. What happens, then, to students after they leave the anatomy classroom? As it is not taught in other basic science courses, professionalism education effectively becomes a null curriculum, teaching students to compartmentalize professionalism questions so that they can be addressed in anatomy courses or during dedicated professionalism course work. In their training, medical students spend 4 to 12 years navigating this shifting environment of hidden, null, or explicit curricula, which have a significant impact on their attitudes and character.
In this perspective, the author highlights, from his experience as a medical student, specific professionalism challenges in anatomy—such as encountering mortality, enacting contracts with society and those who are most vulnerable, and upholding scientific excellence—and discusses how these challenges are addressed by anatomy educators. He then provides analogous examples of opportunities to teach professionalism in other basic science courses, such as pathology, microbiology, and pharmacology. He concludes by describing the goal of incorporating professionalism into all basic science courses—a longitudinal, cohesive environment of awareness.