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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Medical students honor those who have donated their bodies to science

Photo of memorial table Medical students and donor families honor donors' memories.

In recognition of the individuals who have donated their bodies to support medical research and education at the UC Davis School of Medicine, students from the Class of 2010 have organized perhaps the largest memorial event in the history of the school. It is also a unique event among the five University of California medical schools in that it includes the family members of donors.

More than 450 students, faculty members and donor families attended the memorial ceremonies held in the courtyard of the UC Davis Education Building in Sacramento. The event included music by a student trio, several speakers, refreshments and the release of doves in honor of those who have given their bodies to science.

"We wanted to do something special to thank those individuals who generously donated their bodies to advance the practice of medicine," said Zhanetta Malko, a second-year medical student at UC Davis and one of the coordinators of the event. “This ceremony is a way for us to show respect for the donors and gratitude to their families. Our anatomy class takes us on a journey and is a unique experience.”

"It's a unique opportunity to learn what the human body looks like, from the inside out," said Richard Tucker, professor of cell biology and human anatomy, and an instructor in the anatomy laboratory classes. "But our goal is that students not only learn anatomy, but also develop a genuine appreciation and respect for the individuals who have donated their bodies. In many ways these are their first patients."

Malko said she and her fellow students, after spending so much time with a donor body, also learn more about themselves and their responses to death and dying. All of the processing of anatomical information, along with feelings and beliefs represent one step along the road of training that makes a student a compassionate, capable physician.

Photo of memorial event

"Even though we know nothing more about a donor than their age and what they died from,” added Malko, “after spending so much time with them, it becomes very personal. In a sense, you become attached to the donor and very appreciative of their contributions to your education. You also realize that we are all very mortal.”

Malko said that it is not uncommon for students to write notes of appreciation or poems describing their experiences in the laboratory and thanking the once-living person for making a student's learning possible.

The Donated Body Program at UC Davis School of Medicine receives donations from throughout Northern California. Established in 1968, the program receives approximately 150 donations each year. The school uses about 30 for its anatomy classes, with the rest used by other UC Davis departments or distributed for scientific and medical research to other colleges and institutions that do not have donor programs.