Reflections from the Dissection Room

Cadaveric dissection is becoming obsolete among medical schools. It used to feel like a rite of passage but as part of the curriculum update at Imperial, 1st year students solely use prosections for their anatomy learning.

Whether you have seen a dead body before or not, it seldom prepares you to what you will see in the dissection room (DR). Over the last four terms of medical school, we dissected the entire human body so I decided to write a free-form reflection on my experience emotionally.

The reactions from students in the first session ranged from being absolutely fine to fainting. The staff members were understanding and supportive. I never manged to get used to the strong chemical smell of the bodies and the room. It was the first thing I noticed. It is the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to write this. Many people say it makes you hungry but I never experienced that. Even after 10+ sessions in the DR, I still feel mildly uneasy and overwhelmed when I’m there.

Everyone inevitably grew desensitised to the fact that we were dissecting human bodies. The more times you cut, the more used you became to the motions. In fairness, it wasn’t burdensome. The faces were covered at all times unless we were learning about the head. We were provided with no information about the person’s life. I always felt that there was an unspoken rule in the DR to try to dehumanise the cadavers in order to cope. However, it was imperative that we acted respectively and professionally in the DR. We were given an immerse privilege by the people who donated their bodies to help our medical education. We owe them and their families that utmost respect and gratitude.

I expected the bodies to feel really cold to touch. They weren’t. The preservation process had rendered them less human like than we were anticipating. Yet, there were few vestiges of human-ness that were ample to remind us that each cadaver was once a person who had a family. It was an eye-opening experience to the necessity of emotional detachment in medicine. It was something that we had to actively work on.

This experience was incredible. I saw and held human organs. It was formative academically and professionally. This account is not how every student will experience dissection. Those were only some of the thoughts I had throughout the process. I hope you enjoy reading it  :).


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