The dissection course (DC) is an essential part of the preclinical medical curriculum that mediates professionalism. The process of dissecting, however, has an inherent additional stress potential. Our study determined student mental stress, their need of psychological support and factors influencing this need. A quantitative longitudinal query before, during and after the DC was performed including the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) as well as self-formulated questions used a 5-point Likert scale. Half of the students who anticipated dissection to be a stress factor reported that this declined significantly over time. Instead, student fear of not being able to cope with the work load increased significantly. As many as 64% of the students favored psychological support on the first course day, while 75% rejected this during the period of dissection and 39% appreciated this after the course. Moreover, 42% emphasized the importance of the funeral ceremony. Additionally, 75% documented their need for support in coping with stress and learning strategies. Gender, previous medical training, and BSI levels were identified as psychosocial influence factors. A majority of students named friends, members of their family or workmates as partners with whom they could talk about mental stress. Our results document the need to develop an optimum support during the DC taking into account the ascertained indicators. Exemplarily the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Ulm University suggests several options like a step by step approach for optimization. These measures reduce mental stress and help students to cope with it by the development of "detached concern" towards their "first patient" as this will decisively influence their future professional behavior.
2010 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.