In poignant tradition, medical and health students honor anatomy donors and their families

An essential part of medical training

The ceremony allows students to wrap up their anatomy study time and contemplate the value of donor decisions, event organizers said. At the same time, families can celebrate the memories of their loved ones and appreciate the significance of their contributions, said Dale Ritter, anatomy course director at Brown Medical School.

In his letter, Franco pondered questions about his donor.

“When we studied the brain, I felt like I was holding [the donor’s] entire lives in my hands – all their memories, thoughts, feelings,” she read. “I wondered what those memories were. I wondered how we were so lucky to be the recipients of such a selfless gift and sacrifice.

Each donor’s donation “is a testament to their character, their passion for education, their selflessness,” she added.

In the 50 or more hours that medical students spend in anatomy class, they learn about the physical attributes of the bodies they study, Ritter said, but they learn nothing about donors beyond the basic information such as age and cause of death. The ceremony, he said, is a time to recognize the character of the donors as well as their lifelong experiences and impacts.

The Anatomical Gifts Program provides invaluable training not only to medical students at Brown, but also to those in the physician assistant program at Bryant University, physical therapy and occupational therapy programs at the University of Rhode Island, and of those taking an undergraduate course at Providence College, according to Ritter. .

“I hope I can say that we are all affected by [these gifts]said Olivia Nyberg, a member of the MD Class of 2025 at Brown. She added that her grandmother had donated her body to a similar program and recognized her “spirit of generosity, sacrifice and humility with which each individual had donated”.

Tribute to immense generosity

Each of this year’s 52 donors was recognized by first name as students walked past the audience and placed roses in designated vases. While the ceremony may be sad for families, Ritter said he hopes for most loved ones, hearing the students’ remarks “reinforces their sense that what their loved one did was a good thing.”

For ceremony attendee Katie Gallogly Lowell, the event was a way to honor her mother and stepfather, who both chose to become donors. They were both family-oriented and selfless people, she said. Lowell’s mother had been unable to receive a revival and funeral due to the pandemic.

“Having this ceremony, in a way, is a big part of the closure,” Lowell said. The ceremony “was much more than I expected. It was great.

Lowell was also reunited at the event with her mother’s hospice doctor: Dr. Edward Martin, chief medical officer of Hope Health and professor of medicine and clinical educator at Warren Alpert Medical School. In a keynote address at the event, Martin spoke about the value for healthcare providers of knowing patients as whole people, not just their disease, and the lessons of gratitude he learned from some of his patients.

He reminded the public to “let your loved ones – your family, your friends – know how grateful you are to have them in your life. For the family members joining us tonight, we can’t thank you enough for this immense generosity…You should be so proud of your loved ones.

In addition to keeping memories of the celebration, family members could take home letters written by other first-year medical students in which they expressed the importance of the donor gift.

Towards the end of the ceremony, several family members recalled their loved ones’ enthusiasm for contributing to the program, their involvement in health care during their lifetime and how much they missed them, prompting laughter, smiles and tears from the audience.

“I’m so glad the families wanted to come and share stories, because I think that’s what everyone needed to make this all very real,” Franco said.

Alex Philips, a graduate of Brown’s Program for Liberal Medical Education who is now a first-year medical student, said that “hosting a ceremony that honored the amount of learning that took place, as well as the dedication and generosity of our body donors, was incredible.”

As the evening marked the end of the commemoration of the final roles of donors in education, the students viewed the experience as an essential but early step in their own medical life journey.

“When it comes to impacting your loved ones in the world, our future patients can assure you that this moment is far from over,” said Soneida DeLine-Caballero, a student in the biomedical master’s program at Brown’s Gateways program.

“I hope you find comfort in the fact that your loved ones will save lives in the future,” Franco said. “They laid the foundation for our entire medical career.”

The story is adapted from a [email protected] reporting by Emilija Sagaityte, a Brown Class of 2022 graduate who will begin her studies at Warren Alpert Medical School this fall.

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