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What better place to start than at the beginning? We begin our long path to becoming doctors in gross anatomy. It is our first class in medical school, and the cadavers that we dissect are often called our first patients. They are also called our silent teachers. We learn more from them than any professor's lecture or any picture in a textbook could ever teach us. Studying our cadavers is not like reading words on a page or looking at an image on a screen. It is actual interaction with human beings—human beings who generously donated their bodies so that we could begin to learn to be doctors.
I looked at my cadaver with awe and appreciation. When that person died, one life was lost, but in that death, life has been given to countless other people through the care I will give someday. There is an exchange that occurs between cadaver and student. Through death the cadaver willingly extends a hand to give the gift of life, and we reach out to graciously accept. The cadaver has passed on to us the foundation of our education, and for this we are forever grateful.
This exchange of knowledge begins in the anatomy lab, but continues throughout the entire medical school experience. It lives in every classroom, study hall, and library. This is the place where death delights to help the living, and it is our responsibility and our honor to make sure that the death of our first patient will be a help to all those we serve. The tremendous amount of knowledge we gain from our silent teachers is the first step in our pursuit and our conviction to become protectors of life. We must always continue to learn, for there is no limit to our abilities, but it is important to never forget where we began, and those who helped us along the way.
Mr. Rich is a third-year medical student, Florida State University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, Florida; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org