In their first months in medical school, students spend countless hours with the bodies of people they never knew but which have an integral role in their quest to become physicians.
The bodies have been donated to the anatomy lab. And last weekend, students got a chance to meet family members of the deceased and thank them for donating such a priceless gift.
“For many of us, our donor is the first human body we will thoroughly, systematically and reverentially evaluate,” said first-year student Gabriel Santamaria. “This is why, to me, my donor was not only my first patient – she was one of my most valued teachers.”
Santamaria addressed his remarks Saturday to hundreds of family members and friends of the dozens of people who chose to gift their bodies to the UC Davis School of Medicine.
The Body Donor Service of Gratitude, held at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, is an annual memorial service that features speeches from students and faculty, musical performances, military honors and a reading of the names of those who donated their bodies to science.
Students shared a common theme in thanking their donors: A deep appreciation for how much more they learn about the human body from corpses they become intimately familiar with early on in medical school.
“I know that those cartoonish anatomy drawings I always saw in textbooks present actual physical structures which are even more beautiful in real life,” Santamaria said. The lessons learned in the hands-on anatomy lab, he added, “will live on with me and my classmates as we use what knowledge we have gained from our donors’ generous teaching to help us help countless patients in the future.”
More than 3,000 bodies have been donated since 1968, which has allowed the School of Medicine to supply bodies to UC Davis undergraduate classes, California State University campuses, community colleges and private universities.
Caitlin Greenup, a student in the University of the Pacific’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, said she felt proud “to be part of the life that your loved one will live through me, my peers, our future patients and all of the lives intertwined thusly.”
Musical selections were performed with guitars, piano and vocals. The selections featured students Brian Lawton, Hannah Tak, Jonathan Mo, Davis Chong, Cynthia Sun and Elizabeth Helmke.
The ceremony is organized by second-year medical students.
Professor of Internal Medicine Fred Meyers emphasized the importance of “giving back,” as the donors have done.
Spending intimate hours in the lab with the donor helps students to develop a profound respect for individual human life and learn an important lesson that the donor gives back as much as they gave to the donor.”
Associate Professor Hana Anderson, who teaches anatomy, thanked the families in attendance for their “unparalleled gift,” because it allows students to gain “real knowledge” as opposed to merely collecting information.
“The knowledge gained in the anatomy lab experience is not just about skill development as a doctor,” she said. “Spending intimate hours in the lab with the donor helps students to develop a profound respect for individual human life and learn an important lesson that the donor gives back as much as they gave to the donor.”