As a pre-med advisor, I often visited different medical schools. Just about every tour included a stop at the gross anatomy lab to see the cadavers. One of the most memorable ones I saw was an older woman who had died after a long struggle with breast cancer. A double mastectomy had left deep scars across her chest. She also had a small plastic pouch near her neck. The anatomy professor giving the tour explained that the device had been implanted under her skin as a way to deliver the drug combination for her treatment. Through her generous gift, this woman was enabling students to see first-hand the way that cancer ravages the human body.
One of my students told me about her own experience learning human anatomy. During a special program during high school, “Rachel” got the chance to dissect a cadaver. She nicknamed her cadaver “Bob” and quickly got to work trying to identify how he had died. Bob was clearly a Harley Davidson kind of guy, who sported multiple tattoos and a beard. Upon examining Bob’s internal organs, Rachel saw that about five different things could have killed him. He had a severely damaged liver from years of drinking, blackened lungs from smoking, and a whole host of other conditions. Her teacher revealed that Bob had died from congestive heart failure. Rachel found it fascinating to examine his heart and see the plaque build-up in his blood vessels. Her experience confirmed that becoming a physician was the right path for her and she has worked hard to make it a reality. Throughout her time in medical school at Harvard and now after having completed her residency training, Rachel still thinks about Bob.
When you are in medical school, know that there are many people rooting for you. There are the obvious ones, like your friends and family, but there are also people like Bob. They want you to succeed in becoming the best physician you can be. Many medical schools have formal ceremonies to recognize the significance of these people’s gifts. Make sure to be thankful for those who have given their bodies to science so that you can learn human anatomy in a hands-on way instead of just through a computer simulation.