What comes to mind when you think of your “best teacher?” Perhaps the one who had easy tests? Maybe the one who would go out of their way to know each student on an individual basis? Well in gross anatomy, the cadaver is undoubtedly a medical student’s best teacher.
I’ve always held the dissection of the cadaver to be an exclusive and almost ceremonial “rite-of-passage” for health professional students. It isn’t a privilege to dissect or a desire to learn which guides me. It’s a responsibility I have to my cadaver. Mastering anatomy using the cadaver is not an option. It’s not a matter of learning it in pieces, though it is a process. It’s a matter of beginning this dissection with the end in mind – knowing that I would genuinely know that my donor’s body was used to its absolute maximum potential in educating my tank.
So how was the first gross anatomy lab? After taking a brief inventory of our dissecting equipment, my tankmates and I proceeded to elevate the contraption containing the cadaver, unzipped the bag, and peeled back the formalin-soaked towels he was encased in. It seemed a big odd though. We just… did it. Without hesitation. Without taking a moment to even understand the gravity of what we were about to embark on. As we fumbled through the dissection manual, I couldn’t help but think we were acting like this was a natural part of our lives before med school.
After walking out of today’s lab, I felt profoundly ignorant. I thought I knew exactly where the bones and muscles would be relative to each other. I thought I did the sweat work studying last night. I really thought I prepared well for lab. Unfortunately, the problem of studying a two dimensional figure (textbooks, anatomy flashcards, etc.) with the intention of applying it to a three dimensional being (the cadaver) was made all too clear this afternoon. I had so much trouble identifying things which seemed so simple on paper. If the teres major is pinned, I’ll mistakenly call it the infraspinatus. The serratus anterior is still a huge mystery, and I couldn’t remember the third lateral attachment of the trapezius.
An individual’s only true possession in life is his or her own body, so donating this sole possession to science is an act without equal. What do I have to show for the sacrifice my cadaver made? Well at this point, a bruised ego. 🙁 I need to spend those extra hours in the anatomy lab learning what I’ve missed, polishing my dissecting skills, relaying my newfound knowledge to peers, and ultimately ensuring that I can finish the anatomy course with a sense of personal achievement. Not a personal achievement as assessed by a lab examination/practical, but a genuinely high level of comprehension which warrants the sacrifice made by an individual who gave his only real possession for the betterment of medical education.