Ceremony Celebrates Medical Students' "First Teachers"

Stories and Features

More than 130 first-year medical students recently attended the annual Cadaver Ceremony at the Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education in Innovation Quarter. Students and faculty gathered to honor these anatomical gifts, reflect on their experiences during the grueling 14-week Clinical Anatomy and Physiology (CAP) course, and express appreciation through music, poetry and stories.

“It was an opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the donors and their families for being generous, selfless and giving their prized possession—their bodies—to science,” said Kevin Wang, president of the Class of 2021. Along with his fellow students, he recently finished the required course that is often considered a rite of passage for medical students.

The gathering opened with a reception and was followed by a rose ceremony, with small groups of students presenting single roses to place in a large vase surrounded by candles. Each of the 23 flowers represented a group’s cadaver. While students did not know names of the donors, they did know their ages and professions, which included a surgeon, a chief petty officer, a nurse and others with broad backgrounds from all walks of life.

“The great irony as medical students is that we use death to learn about life, and these cadavers have taught us what a traditional textbook or lecture couldn’t,” said Wang. “This person used to be alive and could’ve led a life similar to ours. It makes you think about the intersection of humanity and science and how to treat patients with empathy, kindness and compassion. Anatomy is the first step in that.”

Medical student Madison Greer admitted she was scared at first but that the course confirmed medicine as the right profession for her. “I won’t ever forget my cadaver, for the gift she gave to me—a total stranger that she never knew,” she said. “No matter how many hearts I hold or surgeries I scrub in on, I’ll never forget my first. You gave us your body, but your soul lives on, with us.”

The ceremony was also a time to recognize the end of Anatomy and reflect on the individual student experience. “Anatomy is hard and is physically and emotionally uncomfortable. These cadavers have served as your ‘first teachers’ and deserve the care and respect you’ve shown,” said Thomas James Perrault Jr., PhD, assistant professor of Surgery, who directs the course. “I’m here to celebrate what you’ve accomplished.”

The Medical Center operates the largest bequeathal program in the state, with human bodies and tissues donated through the Whole Body Donation Program serving the instructional needs of medical students, residents, faculty and other learners. These donations provide valuable hands-on research and educational opportunities that improve patient care.

To learn more about the Medical Center’s bequeathal program, call 336-716-4369.