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In 1893, Anatomy at Michigan was probably taught like this! Now it's much more hands on, with 4 students working with each donor.

In 1893, Anatomy at Michigan was probably taught like this! Now it’s much more hands on, students work in groups of four with each donor.

Anatomy class is an irreplaceable and unique learning experience during our M1 year; a tangible trip through the human body that allows us to explore and learn without fear of causing harm. Without anatomical donors, we would not have this opportunity. I recently spoke at the Anatomical Donations Memorial Ceremony, an event for the families of those who donate their bodies to our education. I thought Dose of Reality readers might enjoy hearing my thoughts as well! Here are the reflections and gratitude that I shared at the memorial:

“To our donor,

Today we learned about the anatomy of the legs. Those words might sound simple, boring maybe, but I want to thank you because with your help, it was amazing. When I got home, I spent a long time in front of the mirror, running my hands over my own legs, finding the structures that I knew were inside. Here is my femoral artery pulsing. I’ll have to live three more lifetimes until it has pulsed for as long as yours did. Here is my Achilles tendon – I never realized just how thick and strong it is until you showed me yours. Here are the soft bellies of each of my muscles, so smooth and so powerful at the same time.

Donor, for the first time I am grasping the beauty that lies beneath the skin, because you selflessly allowed us to see the beauty beneath yours.

I’m not sure if you’re watching, Donor, what we do in anatomy class, so I’m not sure if you know that I was the one who made the first incision that first day of class. I hope you heard me whisper, “thank you,” and heard my classmates later do the same. And if you are listening, I hope you don’t mind when our concentration strays to talking about our classes or to wondering about the future and the types of doctors we will be one day. Then again, maybe you like hearing about the process you stepped into, and knowing about the people you are helping us to become. Rohit said he might become a surgeon! Me, I want work with the same patients over time; so I think I’ll go into primary care. You’ll probably laugh when we all end up somewhere different than where you heard us plan this semester. Like a good advisor, you’ve helped foster our dreams, confident that whatever we do will be worthy of your help. We won’t let you down.

I wonder about what you did, in your life. You graciously share with us some of the most personal elements of you, but other things are left unsaid. These hands, did they once cradle new life? Your well-worn feet, to what corners of the world did they walk? I held your heart; did it beat strong and nervous in love? You can’t tell us, but just know that we wondered, and appreciated that the answers are important, even if we can’t know.

It is incredible to think, Donor, that you started as one tiny cell. That the one cell multiplied and changed and grew and formed all of you – all the structures we learn from and marvel at, all the things we can’t know. I think about that amazing fact almost every class. At the end of the day, we learn the anatomy and physiology, but I think the most important thing you teach us is just how beautiful and incredible this thing we call life really is, and for that I thank you.”