The Truest Gift
Medical students honor their first patients at annual memorial service
For a long time now, first-year medical students at Tufts have held an annual memorial service on campus to honor their first patients—the generously donated cadavers they have studied in gross anatomy lab. Three years ago, students began inviting families of donors to the service. And this year, some 135 family members attended. Together with students and faculty, more than 400 people were on hand.
“Anatomy is a physically and emotionally demanding rite of passage, forcing many students to confront their feelings about death for the first time,” Robert Willson, who directs the clinical anatomy course, told the AAMC Reporter last October. “We emphasize the humanity of these donors and show respect for the spirit of kindness that made them give their bodies to medical education.”
Gratitude takes many forms. Often, there is music played. Students compile poetry and personal essays, along with photos of themselves, in a memorial book that they share with families of the donors.
Students get a chance to meet donor families at a reception. Here they are able to hear firsthand stories about their living, breathing donor and gain a fuller sense of the person they only met once breath was gone. Following the service, students carry long-stemmed red roses back to the lab and place them on the empty dissecting tables.