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Acad Med. 2000 Oct;75(10):969-79.

Quidne mortui vivos docent? The evolving purpose of human dissection in medical education.

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Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


The dissection experience has evolved over the past 500 years, following broader cutural trends in science and medicine. Through this time each period has recruited human gross anatomic dissection for characteristic purposes. Key variables have been: (1) the motivating philosophies of medicine and science, (2) how well clinical medicine and basic science have been integrated by anatomy, and (3) how explicity thoughts or feelings about death and dying have been addressed in the context of anatomy. The authors are especially interested in the third variable, and suggest that although anatomy is scientifically in decline, dissection is currently enjoying a revival as a vehicle for teaching humanist values in medical school. Changes in the culture of medicine have carried anatomy from a research science, to a training tool, nearly to a hazing ritual, to a vehicle for ethical and moral education. Physicians, scientists, and medical students, as well as observers such as sociologists and writers, have been only intermittently aware of these cultural shifts. Yet anatomic dissection has been remarkably persistent as a feature of medical education-indeed it stands out as the most universal and universally recognizable step in becoming a doctor. This paper attempts to explore and interpret in detail the history of anatomy education, drawing on both subjective commentary and objective data from each period.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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