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Life as a pre-medical student: Dissection

vicky hargest medical pre-medical studentVicky Hargest tells us about experiences as a pre-medical student. This time she gets to grips with dissection, a subject not for the faint-hearted.

Human dissection is a highly sensitive topic which is why I am approaching this article with some caution. I promise not to go into too much detail, firstly to respect the wishes of those who donate their bodies and secondly in case you have an oversensitive stomach!

So far most of the first term has revolved around the foundation sciences so we were excited to be told that we would have the opportunity to visit the dissection rooms.

A little hesitation

On arrival we were met by Dave, the manager of the Medical Teaching Unit, who ran through some rules and made us feel at ease. He also mentioned that occasionally people do faint so not to be embarrassed if it happened to us! Bearing that in mind we entered the suite with a little hesitation.

We put our white coats and gloves on and entered one of the teaching bays where the cadavers and prosections were covered with sheets. I was half expecting there to be a nasty smell but everything just smelt very clean.

We spent a little while longer throwing questions at Dave which he answered with great humour and sensitivity. We learnt that the average age of those that donate their bodies is well over 80 and that the vast majority that add their name to the ‘waiting’ list never make it to the dissecting rooms. For example those that had severe cancer or had an autopsy are excluded to ensure that the medical students get a cadaver that is in the best possible condition.

Lungs and ligaments

When the sheets were finally removed I was not as shocked as I first thought I would be. Having been to the Body Worlds exhibition in London a few years ago, I can honestly say these looked pretty similar (although without the poses). There was an eerie silence to start with because we could see that these were real people and we were still trying to work out what constituted ‘respect’. Should we talk? Was it rude to point? And who was going to make the first move and touch something?

Soon enough there was a buzz around the room and we were all quite animated. We were able to see the organs in situ and do things such as gently pull on ligaments in order to flex the fingers. Feeling the spongy texture of the lungs made me realise just how good a teaching tool dissection really is. Although we did not dissect anything on this occasion we spent a decent amount of time preparing ourselves for the real thing in October.

Many medical schools are now using videos and computers for their anatomy teaching but having now seen the benefits of human dissection I am very pleased to have chosen a medical school that still uses this technique.

About Vicky

Vicky Hargest is a medical student at the University of Sheffield. Although she has an arts degree (health studies) she has taken the pre-med route (six year course) in order to learn foundation sciences.

She is the first in her family to enter higher education - proving that medicine is for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Having worked in medical education for the last six years she is now seeing things from the other side of the fence.

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