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In the beginning, anatomy

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Fall / 2000 - Winter


A few weeks ago, the first-year medical and physician associate students sat in Hope 110 for an introduction to the anatomy course, with professors and second-year students describing the experience of dissection and how crucial it is to understanding the body and human disease. Professor William Stewart, Ph.D., asked several veterans of the course to make a few remarks. One was Margaret Bourdeaux, a second-year student who had recently returned from her second trip to the Balkans, where she and fellow students volunteered in a camp for refugees from Kosovo.

Margaret and other second-year students helped prepare the new students for their first encounter with a cadaver, the human body that they will come to know intimately over the course of the next few months. Several of the students talked about shedding tears over the cadaver, or simply standing in silence and gratitude for this gift to science. “I remember sitting where you are, thinking how I wanted to have the perfect initial reaction,” Margaret said. That reaction, she assumed, would say a lot about the student. Crying wouldn’t do, nor would an inappropriate display of humor. Margaret’s moment of truth came on the second day in the anatomy lab, when it was time to begin dissection and, much to her dismay, she found herself laughing uncontrollably. “I had to leave the room,” she told a relieved-looking roomful of new students, who clearly appreciated the story. “What I learned was that initial reactions are not who you really are.”