MUSC The Catalyst
MUSC arial view


MUSCMedical LinksCharleston LinksArchivesCatalyst AdvertisersSeminars and EventsResearch StudiesPublic RelationsResearch GrantsCatalyst PDF FileMUSC home pageCommunity HappeningsCampus NewsApplause

MUSCMedical LinksCharleston LinksArchivesCatalyst AdvertisersSeminars and EventsResearch StudiesPublic RelationsResearch GrantsMUSC home pageCommunity HappeningsCampus NewsApplause


Physician’s writings inspires 1st-year students 

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
It’s no secret that many first-year medical students’ approach to medical human dissection and gross anatomy class is likely met with mixed feelings of excitement, trepidation or anxiety. So when the College of Medicine (COM) introduced its new integrated curriculum design this fall to incoming medical students, the new anatomy component was extended as part of four longitudinal themes. Gross anatomy is under the new structure and function theme and extends throughout the first year.
Psychiatrist and author Dr. Christine Montross, right, meets first-year medical gross anatomy student Bonnie Brooks at an Oct. 2 reception.

To prepare students for the experience and bridge their transition as medical professionals, course directors assigned all first-year students to read and later discuss the poignant memoir, “Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality From the Human Anatomy Lab,” written by Christine Montross, M.D., a writer and educator who is a 2006 graduate of Brown Alpert Medical School (Brown University) who is now completing her final year as a psychiatric resident.
During her first year of medical school, Montross began writing a journal to reflect her medical school activities and experiences, especially those connected with taking the mandatory gross anatomy course. Montross’ efforts led her to earning a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology while attending medical school. Her intent was to write an article for publication about these experiences which became the award-winning book.
To emphasize the college’s new integrated anatomy component for studying the body, Debra Hazen-Martin, Ph.D., associate dean of curriculum integration and implementation, invited Montross to Charleston to speak to students on the first day they entered the gross anatomy lab and were introduced to their teaching cadaver on Oct. 2. Prior to Montross’ arrival, students participated in a facilitated book discussion with Hazen-Martin and David H. Bernanke, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, who serves as the Structure and Function theme director in the integrated curriculum.
For years, medical learning through the dissection of a human cadaver was a rite of passage for physicians in training and considered much in the same way as how other symbols in the medical profession are regarded, including the white coat and stethoscope, according to Montross. All are elements of the medical school experience that contribute greatly to the beginning journey of the doctoring profession.
“Dr. Montross’ writings focus on how anatomical dissection affects individuals, especially those who are more sensitive to the experience and how medical educators might underestimate the impact of human dissection on doctors in training,” said Hazen-Martin, who was charged to oversee the implementation of the school’s new integrated curriculum.
In her midday address to students, Montross discussed concerns using traditional cadaveric dissection methods in the anatomy lab versus the use of technology’s newest advances in medical education. She reminded the audience how medical students, physicians and other health professionals readily use technology from communicating, analyzing lab results to reviewing MRI images and scans of patients.
Montross feels that the loss of human dissection in medical education would affect any type of human connection associated with the senses including response, which includes a physician’s ability to maintain his/her composure especially during stressful situations. She believes that although learning about human anatomy may be better achieved through detailed images and high-tech tools, she reminds students that the art of caring for sick people is very real  and often messy, smelly and emotionally and physically difficult.
“Dissection gives us a glimpse of wonder into that, which the human body affords in a way you cannot find on a screen image. It’s far easier to appreciate the fragility, intricacy and strength of the human heart when you’re holding it carefully in your hands. It give us awe that we can carry to the bedsides of every patient we see and treat,” Montross said.
As a follow up to her talk, Montross met with faculty and students at a reception to talk more about their anatomy lab experiences and sign copies of her book.

Friday, Oct. 23, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.