Anticipatory feelings about dissection: An exercise for the first day of a gross anatomy course

Anat Sci Educ. 2020 Dec 27. doi: 10.1002/ase.2048. Online ahead of print.


Studies have demonstrated that students experience a variety of intense emotions in anticipation of human anatomical dissection, including enthusiasm, gratitude, responsibility, apprehension, detachment, anxiety, and spiritual or moral reflection. This exercise described here provides an opportunity to start a conversation about the complexity of students' emotional reactions to the anatomy experience. The intention of this exercise is to normalize the variety of emotions that anatomy students experience, both to demonstrate to students that their emotions are normal and to encourage empathy for others' reactions which may differ from their own. In the lecture hall setting before the first day of dissection, students are asked to draw how they feel about the dissection experience and are provided an opportunity to discuss their drawings with their peers. The course director then provides a slide show demonstration of drawings from previous years, and experienced anatomy faculty facilitate a large group discussion in which students react to the drawing exercise and slide show and ask questions which are addressed by the faculty. This exercise provides an opportunity for students to practice appropriately communicating about emotionally complex experiences in a professional setting. The exercise is straightforward to implement and is easily modifiable for different class sizes and curricular structures.

Keywords: Gross anatomy education; anxiety; dissection anatomy: medical humanism; medical education; professionalism; projective drawings; undergraduate education.