Medical students at the University of Missouri School of Medicine thanked the families of those who donated their bodies to medical education at the school’s annual Gift of Body Commemoration on Aug. 18. Each year, hundreds of medical and health professions students benefit from the lessons taught by their donors.
“The donors are able to help educate students in ways that a textbook, slides or pictures cannot do,” said Laura Johnson, PhD, director of the Gift of Body program said. “The presence of the donors reminds our students that ultimately their work is about their patients and their families.”
According to Johnson, the donors serve as the medical students’ very first patients. In addition to providing the foundation of knowledge of the human body, the donors also help students begin to identify their emotions associated with life and death.
Second-year MU medical students organize a ceremony each year to honor the donors and their families.
“A ceremony in honor of the donors is critical for multiple reasons,” Johnson said. “First, it represents an opportunity for family members to gain closure, and to hear from our students how important the donor was to their education. The process of gifting one’s body to medical education is a long one, and it can take up to two to three years for a family member’s remains to return to the family. Since this postpones the family’s grieving process, the ceremony serves as recognition of that sacrifice and helps to bring closure to the family.”
Secondly, Johnson said that the ceremony represents a critical culmination of the student’s experience in their anatomy education. The students who have completed their anatomy course can proudly say that they have learned the anatomy of the human body by virtue of the donors in the Gift of Body program.
Casey Holliday, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, said that there is nothing more valuable in a medical student’s education than interacting with people — friends, families, and patients— as they hone their communication and science skills. Holliday said that body donation is a key facet to the student’s training.
MU’s medical school recently expanded its class size from 96 to 128 students by opening an additional campus in Springfield and a new education building in Columbia. According to Johnson and Holliday, the program now needs at least 55 donors each year to accommodate the school’s expanded class size.