Medical students' perceptions of the body donor as a "first patient" or "teacher": a pilot study

Anat Sci Educ. 2011 Jul-Aug;4(4):208-13. doi: 10.1002/ase.231. Epub 2011 May 25.


University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) students attending a seminar on the history and ethics of anatomical dissection were fascinated by a report on the dissection room experience in Thailand that relates the body donor's status as a teacher. The students felt that they had naturally adopted the "body as teacher" approach in their dissection course, rather than the "body as first patient" approach that is encouraged by faculty. It was decided to explore the question whether other medical students shared these perceptions. A questionnaire was sent out to all UMMS students who had finished the anatomical dissection course. One hundred twenty-eight responses from a population of 500 students were received. Results indicate that students believe the "body as teacher" approach is more effective in engendering respect and empathy towards the body and towards future patients, and in facilitating students' emotional development. Students also reported wanting a more personal relationship with their donors. Eighty four percent of students preferred the "body as teacher" approach to the currently taught "body as first patient" approach. The results support the hypothesis that students' desired closer personal relationship with donors might be better facilitated by the "body as teacher" approach, and that this closer relationship engenders empathy and respect towards the donor and future patients. A new model for anatomy programs could introduce the donor first as a teacher and later transition into viewing the donor as a patient.

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / education*
  • Cadaver*
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Pilot Projects
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching
  • Tissue Donors