Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31828fa212
Letters to the Editor

Human Anatomy

Wassmer, Sarah PhD; Jalali, Alireza MD

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Candidate and anatomy sessional lecturer, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Clinical and Functional Anatomy, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine and Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; swassmer@ohri.ca.

Professor of anatomy, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

To the Editor: Anatomy. It can seem quite simple: You go to class, lab, write exams, and then receive a final grade. Very straightforward.

However, it is not called just anatomy; it’s human anatomy. We cannot forget the most important component: the human. As humans, we walk this earth trying to make something of ourselves and perhaps even help others along the way. No matter what we do, we are human and should always maintain our humaneness: having or showing compassion or benevolence; being well-meaning and kind; serving a charitable rather than a profit-making purpose.1

The donors whose bodies are in our medical school’s anatomy laboratories exert their humaneness even after death. They are our mentors and heroes, who bestow upon us the ability and responsibility to show the same selflessness and humanity in helping others.

Donors make it possible for students to understand the human body by means of dissection. Unfortunately, opportunities for dissection are dwindling for many students, as obtaining proper donors and anatomy teachers is quite difficult at some medical schools.2 Being able to physically dissect and search for vessels, muscles, and organs allows students to appreciate the delicate intricacies of the human body in addition to variation between donors. The perfect pictures in textbooks rarely mimic real life, which forces students to integrate knowledge of anatomy and physiology, carry out conceptual placement, and think “outside of the box” in order to properly identify structures. These skills are a product of the student–donor relationship.

For each of us, being able to dissect human donors in undergraduate studies was both a privilege and a maturation process. We learned how to study and truly comprehend the interworkings of the human body while building a deep respect for and connection with humanity. This was an invaluable experience that every biomedical student should have the opportunity to embrace.

The greatest gift that the donors have given us is not anatomy expertise but, rather, what it means to be humane—influencing others and improving life even after one’s time on earth. We encourage medical students to enjoy dissection courses and anatomy classes but to never forget the human component—the donors who lead us by example.

Sarah Wassmer

PhD candidate and anatomy sessional lecturer, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Clinical and Functional Anatomy, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine and Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; swassmer@ohri.ca.

Alireza Jalali, MD

Professor of anatomy, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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References

1. New Oxford American Dictionary. 20052nd ed New York, NY Oxford University Press

2. Bay BH, Ling EA. Teaching of anatomy in the new millennium. Singapore Med J. 2007;48:182–183

© 2013 Association of American Medical Colleges

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