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A life in surgery, a new role in anatomy

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2002 - Autumn


Robert Chase, M.D. ’47, emeritus chair of the department of surgery at Stanford, has devoted himself to teaching human gross anatomy since retiring from active surgery 10 years ago. “I love first-year medical students,” said Chase. “They are unspoiled, bright as hell and wonderful people. The spectrum of students is so much broader than when I was here at Yale and it was 95 percent white males.”

He said the presence of women, who compose more than half the class at Stanford, has changed the atmosphere in the human anatomy laboratory. “In the old days, it was sort of a macho experience,” he recalls. “If you were disturbed by dissecting a human being, maybe you didn’t belong in medicine.” Now the human dissection is prefaced by discussions about the people who donated their bodies, and the conversations continue as the dissection progresses. Chase said the dissection teams bridge cultural and ethnic differences, each group of four becoming “a little family” that reduces “balkanization” of people with differences.

Stanford students conduct an end-of-the-course ceremony, reading poetry, performing music and even hearing from the families of those who donated their bodies. “They appreciate seeing the gift that it’s been to students.”

Besides teaching, Chase is also working to develop computer-assisted instruction for learning gross anatomy and surgery. Chase feels confident that nothing will replace the experience of doing hands-on dissection. Chase lives in Stanford with his wife, Ann. They have three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.