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Omega (Westport). 2008-2009;58(3):177-92.

Lessons from the dead: the experiences of undergraduates working with cadavers.

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Point Park University, Pittsburgh, USA.


Dissection of a human cadaver is a time-honored tradition for teaching anatomy in medical education. However, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, including costs and ethical concerns, some medical programs have ceased cadaver dissection in exchange for virtual dissection of cadavers in cyberspace. Past research suggests that students find work on a cadaver to be distressing, but also rewarding. This study analyzed journal entries from 21 undergraduate students working with a cadaver in a gross anatomy course. An empirical, phenomenological analysis of the data identified 19 common themes among the participant's journal entries. In addition, the analysis disclosed how participants usually felt a need to justify the act of dissection. Finally, the analysis identified how students differed in the varied ways they coped with the ambiguous status of the cadaver, which was sometimes viewed as a deceased person while at other times experienced as a fascinating machine. Based on the findings, the researchers offer recommendations for helping students to better cope with the experience of cadaver dissection and to use the experience pedagogically to better prepare students for the stress of the medical world, especially issues surrounding death and dying.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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