Letters to the Editor
From Michelle Paff: While Dr. Champney's opinion that we owe respect to cadavers is actually my own also, I feel he misunderstands a significant fact about my drawing: The drawing does not depict the real face of the cadaver. When I created the drawing, the cadaver's face was deformed from the embalming process and from lying facedown on the dissecting table during the first few weeks of dissection. I had to use a substantial amount of creativity and imagination to derive a warm human face from what was left. The face was unrecognizable as any real human face, and so I added features of my own grandmother's face to reflect how I imagined the woman looked during life. Furthermore, viewing the cadaver's face early in the course was a choice I made for the purpose of this work, which was to see the cadaver not as an object but as a person who donated her body as a gift for my benefit.
Dr. DePace adds: The students at Drexel University College of Medicine have two exposures to the cadavers in the lab prior to any dissection. During the week of orientation, students visit the gross anatomy lab in small groups, where they are told about the cadaver donor program here in Pennsylvania and are shown a cadaver. During this orientation we stress the concept that the cadaver is a gift to be revered and respected.
When the course begins in earnest, we have an initial lab exercise entitled “Evaluation of the Cadaver.” During this lab, the assembled lab groups meet at their assigned locations. They are asked to uncover their cadavers for the first time and to examine them for surgical scars and medical appliances. Each group is then instructed to sponge down their cadaver and to place the cadaver in the prone position in preparation for the first dissection. Before they leave the lab, the students completely replace the covering sheets. Many might argue that this somewhat ritualistic hour is a waste of curricular time. However, we feel that it is a gentle method of introducing our students to their first patients. It is a way of getting them to lay hands-on for the first time, a way to help each student become involved in the care and preservation of their cadaver, and a way of stressing the humanity of the gift that is to be part of their education as physicians.
Second-year medical student, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis DePace, PhD
Associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy and course director of medical gross anatomy, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.