Initiating Students' Reflections on Life's Passing in the Anatomy Course - an International Observation at 14 Universities

Ann Anat. 2021 Sep;237:151741. doi: 10.1016/j.aanat.2021.151741. Epub 2021 Apr 21.


Background: Medical and dental students' feelings and thoughts about the topic of death and life's passing are often associated with learning in the gross anatomy course, when students begin working with a deceased body donor in order to study human anatomy. Little is known of whether the format of anatomy teaching has an impact on these experiences. An observational study was performed to capture the initiation of students' sentiments on the topic of life's passing during the anatomy course at 14 international universities, identify common themes regarding these thoughts, and to study the connection to variations in anatomy course formats and included elements.

Method: Preclinical anatomy students reflected on one question (i.e., "How did your experience in the anatomy laboratory bring about your reflections on the meaning of life and human existence as well as the sanctity of one's passing?"). Written assignments were collected and anonymously coded. Information on anatomy courses was obtained via faculty questionnaires.

Result: A variety of themes were identified at the different schools, correlated with different anatomy formats and elements. Results indicate that the courses that offer hands-on cadaveric dissections may play an important role in triggering these sentiments.

Discussion: The initiation of students' sentiments about the topic of death varies and includes several themes. There can be a connection to the way anatomy is taught, particularly if hands-on comprehensive cadaveric dissection or prosections are included.

Conclusion: In summary, anatomy courses can initiate students' thinking about life's passing - particularly in schools that offer hands-on cadaveric dissections or prosections.

Keywords: Anatomy course format and elements; Death; International; Life’s passing; Preclinical students.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy* / education
  • Cadaver
  • Curriculum
  • Dissection
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities