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U-M medical students honor body donors -- and will soon have a new way to connect with them

New program allows future donors to tape a video for students to view

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This week, University of Michigan Medical School students honored the men and women who donated their bodies to education -- making it possible for future doctors and health professionals to learn the details of anatomy.

In an annual memorial service Wednesday night that drew nearly 1,000 students, faculty and donors’ loved ones, U-M’s anatomical donors received respectful, grateful tributes from the students. Their families received yellow and blue carnations.

The students’ knowledge of the human body will forever be grounded in what they learned from a person they never met – who, in a sense, is their “first patient.”

Now, the school has begun a new program that will give future anatomical donors a chance to connect – virtually – with the students who will learn from their bodies. Starting this year, registered donors may create a video that the school will store and make available for viewing only by anatomy students.

Believed to be one of the first programs of its kind in the country, the effort grew out of research performed by U-M medical students and faculty. They found that a majority of both U-M medical students and registered donors favored some way for donors to connect with students via such videos.

The team published their findings in two papers in Anatomical Sciences Education in 2011 and 2012. They found that a vast majority of students surveyed wished it had been possible for them to develop a more personal relationship with their donors — with 50 percent rating the sentiment an 8 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10.  And, they found that nearly three-quarters of students and 81 percent of registered anatomical donors reported that they would participate in a video program if it existed.

The video program is voluntary, both for donors and students. Donors can make their own videos and send them to the school, or arrange to tape an interview at U-M. Medical students will be able to choose to view videos of donors as part of their anatomical training. At U-M, groups of six medical students each spend their entire first year with a single donor’s body, moving together system by system and learning detailed anatomy, and both empathy and professional detachment.

Each year, U-M receives more than 300 anatomical donations, and works with anatomy education programs at schools and hospitals in the region. More than 7,000 future donors are registered with the program. In addition to the memorial service, a plaque for each year’s donors is placed on U-M’s memorial at Washtenong Memorial Park, and some donors’ families choose to have their loved ones’ ashes buried there as well. Others choose to receive the ashes for private burial.

For more information about the U-M Medical School’s Anatomical Donations Program, visit http://umhealth.me/ummsando .

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