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The Anatomy Memorial: A Time to Reflect

Anatomy Memorial table set up with black table cloth and flowers

Guest blogger, Abby Atkinson, is a second year medical student in the MD-PhD program at Hopkins. She is interested in neurological disorders and using art to understand self, particularly in medicine.

As the anatomy course for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wraps up toward the beginning of October each year, first-year students must say goodbye to their anatomy donors. Anatomy acts as an introduction to medicine, the human body and the role a medical student plays in their medical education — concepts that can interplay in a variety of ways.

A memorial ceremony, held in honor of those who made the donation to become part of medical student education, is one way of allowing an outlet for medical students to say “thank you” to their donors — emphasizing the gratitude, compassion and empathy critical for physician development. On April 24, 2023, about 100 medical and graduate students met for song and reflection in honor of the previous autumn’s donors. Students wrote messages to their donors, highlighting what they wish they could have said to them, lit LED lanterns, and shared art and writing that they had created throughout their experiences in anatomy. The JHU ROTC Color Guard presented the flag, the Synaptic Clefs gave a beautiful performance and students heard thought-provoking speeches from Katherine Chretien, associate dean for medical student affairs; Siobhan Cooke, course director for human anatomy; and Thomas Crowe, director of Johns Hopkins Hospital Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy. A common theme was appreciation for the opportunities we have — and those we may bring to others in the future, as physicians, thanks to the education the donors offered. In addition, students preserved a bouquet into two identical frames, gifting one at the Maryland State Anatomy Board ceremony in the summer and the other as a reminder for the anatomy lab of the beauty that comes in generosity.

Finding ways to reflect on and appreciate experiences as they happen is an invaluable process that will help students continue to become more compassionate, humanistic physicians. Student groups like the one dedicated to organizing the anatomy memorial each year help students think about what they are learning, how they are learning it and how they will use it to help their patients in the future — encouraging them to develop the strength and resiliency to uphold the tradition of Hopkins excellence and discovery throughout their careers.

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  1. Pingback: Semblances of Life: Reflections from Anatomy | Biomedical Odyssey

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