Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why do we force medical students to cut up dead bodies ?

Students join medical college because they want to become doctors. They want to heal people who have medical problems and are excited about the fact that they can help patients in pain to become better by applying medical science .  However, the first thing we make medical students do when they join medical colleges is to cut up dead bodies ! What sense does this make ? Here is a student who is young and idealistic, who's raring to go and heal the world - and the first thing we ask them to do is to lock themselves up in a roomful of corpses and dissect them. Even a sadist could not think up a better way of driving good students out of medical school !

This seems be one of these traditions which are ritualistic rather than useful . We continue doing it simply because it is something we have been doing for many years. When you talk to medical college professors, they agree that the value of the dissection is very limited, but the standard answer is – This is the way we were taught and we turned out to be absolutely fine, upstanding doctors , so this is the right way to teach future generations of medical doctors as well. The tragedy is that this is one of those traditions which makes absolutely no sense at all in today's day and age , because once you actually start practicing medicine , you never cut up a dead body,  unless you happen to become  a coroner.

I think it's high time we decided that we should no longer subject our young, impressionable medical students to such negative energy when they enter medical school. In fact it's always the young, idealistic students who get turned off; and many will end up dropping out of medical college , depriving society of a doctor who would have perhaps been an extremely efficient and effective healer.

The right approach is that we should start off by introducing medical students directly into the hospital and clinic setting , because that's where most of them are going to be spending their professional life when they graduate. They can start off by actually caring for patients – the major reason they joined medical college ! They will obviously do this under supervision ; and once they've done this for about a year, we send them to the operating theater, so they understand the importance of learning anatomy, after which we allow them to dissect a corpse. Not only will this make anatomy much more interesting , because they will understand why they need to learn and memorise all the intricate relationships between nerves, vessels and muscles , but they can use this understanding much more intelligently in order to help their patient's get better .

When you force students to do something which makes no sense to them , they will pretty much do what you make them do, because they are young and do not have a choice , but because this learning is forced , they simply end up cramming a lot of facts which they promptly forget the moment they pass the Anatomy examination.

Not only does this distorted rite of passage abuse their brainpower and intellect, it also means that their retention of critical medical facts is very transitory ! ( I bet your doctor no longer remembers what structures pass  through the inguinal canal !) If, on the other hand , we allow students to see patients first, they will understand why they need to learn anatomy , physiology and biochemistry – and are much more likely to remember everything they learn. I think this is a much more humane way of teaching medicine - and am surprised that more medical colleges do not adopt this.

Many schools have stopped forcing their biology students to cut up dead frogs, because they realise that it is not a very effective teaching tool . In the future, using advanced computer 3-D technology and simulation software, students can learn anatomical relationships with the help of virtual reality as well , rather than have to do it in a smelly anatomy lab. It’s high time we learned to respect our medical students and treated them with dignity as motivated and capable adult learners !


  1. Being a Ist yr medical student,I strongly recommend and appreciate ur idealogy, sir.What z d benefit of a so called Doc,if he/she doesnt dare to cut down a corpe ? It was nice to be at blog of a skilled expert Doc.

  2. Dear Ashu,

    You should start your own blog too !


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