What do medical students learn from dissection?

Anat Sci Educ. 2018 Jul;11(4):325-335. doi: 10.1002/ase.1758. Epub 2017 Dec 4.


Dissection has long been the accepted method for teaching anatomy to medical students. More recently, some educators have suggested that easier, cheaper, alternative methods are just as effective. But what do the students think? This paper aimed to identify what undergraduate medical students learn, how they cope, and what effects participating in dissection has on them as individuals. A cohort of 267 second year medical students at Otago Medical School were invited to complete three online surveys; before their first dissection laboratory class, after their first musculoskeletal system dissection and following the last semester of studying anatomy. Open-ended questions showcasing the attitudes, beliefs, and opinions on what dissection had taught the medical students over years two and three were analyzed. A general inductive approach was used and common emergent themes were identified. In total, 194 students completed the second, and 108 students completed the third questionnaire. Students commonly conveyed dissection as an appropriate and valuable educational tool, useful for teaching and learning anatomical knowledge and relationships, appreciating the body in three-dimension, teamwork, and how to cope with death/dead bodies. The noted effects of personal growth while participating in dissection were highly varied, but in general, impacted positively on the majority of students. This study shows that at Otago Medical School the students also believe that dissection is not only a useful tool to learn anatomy but also that it fosters teamwork, assists professional development and helps them come to terms with death and dying. Anat Sci Educ 11: 325-335. © 2017 American Association of Anatomists.

Keywords: cadaver dissection; death and dying; gross anatomy education; medical education; professional development; student perceptions; teamwork; undergraduate education.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anatomy / education*
  • Cadaver
  • Cohort Studies
  • Curriculum
  • Dissection / economics
  • Dissection / education*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal System / anatomy & histology
  • Schools, Medical / economics
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult