A Final Good-Bye: Med Students Honor Body Donors

A gray stone marker acts as a memorial to body donors.

A gray stone marker acts as a memorial to body donors. It reads: "This monument has been placed with deep appreciation for those who gave unselfishly of themselves to advance medical education and research." Melissa Block, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melissa Block, NPR
Students from the University of Maryland Medical School

Students from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, from left: Christian Wright; Shayna Rich; Yiming Gao; Mollie Sourwine; and Ally Parnes. They will enter their second year of medical school in August. Melissa Block, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melissa Block, NPR

Last fall, first-year medical students at the University of Maryland spent 10 weeks dissecting cadavers as part of their gross anatomy class. This June, the students concluded their journey at a ceremony honoring those who gave their bodies to science.

Two medical students and their professor played Bach at the service, which is held each June on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital in Sykesville, Md. An honor guard was there, as were 100 or so people — the parents, children and friends of the body donors, whose ashes are buried nearby. Some come to the service year after year.

The head of the anatomy class at the University of Maryland, Dr. Larry Anderson, talked to the families about what the students learned.

"In order for them to gain that reverence for life for their patients, they need to learn how to respect death," Anderson said. "They learn that in those times they're doing dissection."

After the service, five students gathered to reminisce about the last days of their gross anatomy class. They talked to NPR's Melissa Block about how their thoughts on death and illness have changed since they first started medical school last year.

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