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GMS Z Med Ausbild. 2012;29(1):Doc12. doi: 10.3205/zma000782. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

Psychological stress in first year medical students in response to the dissection of a human corpse.

[Article in English, German]

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Sana Ohre-Klinikum, Haldensleben, Germany.



Gross anatomy is one of the most important and time consuming subjects in the first preclinical part of medical school in Germany. In October 2007 186 students started the dissection course at Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg. The objective of this study is to analyze the emotional aspect relating to the gross anatomy course. In order to address this issue, we investigated how medical students experience the first confrontation and the following exposure to the dead bodies and whether there are any differences between various groups (age, gender, experience) of students.


The study was carried out with a group of 155 first year medical students (112 female, 43 male, 21.4±2.9 years). Self-composed questionnaires were used to distinguish between concerns related to dissection and individual experiences and anxiety because of deceasing or death. In order to detect the changes of attitudes towards the dissection course, one questionnaire was answered by participants in the beginning of the course and one in the end (n=94, 66 female, 28 male). Additionally, personality traits of the students were analyzed using two scales of the "Freiburger Persönlichkeitsinventar (FPI-R)".


The self-composed questionnaires showed high reliability. For some students dissection was emotional stress; about 50% became anxious when coping the first confrontation, however, only 12% to large extent. Concerning the anxiety of dissection of individual body parts it was less for limbs, internal organs and skin and increased for head and genitals. Although hypothesized before, the correlation between age, extraversion, emotionality and the extent of anxiety were small. Almost 90% of the students approve the early beginning of the gross anatomy course. The follow-up study showed a marked decline of anxiety.


Our results show that about 50% of the students started the course with emotional stress and about one-tenth of them were very worried about the confrontation with corpses. Furthermore, personality tests were shown to be only partly reliable for selecting affected people in advance. With regard to these results capabilities to provide support to the first year medical students should be discussed.


dissection; emotional stress; gross anatomy; students

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