IU Northwest medical students memorialize and give thanks to cadaver donors

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AS DONOR FAMILIES and guests entered the anatomy lab their eyes were immediately drawn to a table decorated with flowers and memories. The Indiana University Northwest Medical School hosts a memorial service each year to show their appreciation for the family member whose body was donated to the school for medical research.

By Michelle Bass, Gary Crusader

Students at Indiana University Northwest Medical School expressed thanks and appreciation to donors by offering a memorial service held this past Friday, January 27. “We didn’t have anything like this and I found some of the things being done was disrespectful,” stated Dr. Talarico. Prior to his program, many medical students did not know the names and background of the donors. “Students didn’t know the donor’s names, so they gave the donors names. I would not say ugly, but not too respectful comments would be made,” observed Dr. Talarico. When he came to Indiana University Northwest Medical School, he thought it was an opportunity to make a change.

Under the direction of Program Director and Associate Professor, Dr. Ernest F. Talarico Jr., the memorial service has become a tradition to Indiana University Northwest’s Medical School for over a decade and a half. “I think when you know the name of an individual you are working on, right away, it makes it more personal,” said Dr. Talarico.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY NORTHWEST’S Reserve Officers Training Corp. (ROTC) giving honor to a veteran donor towards the end of the program.

Each medical student of The International Human Cadaver Prosection Program, read passages of poems, sang hymns and prayed in multiple languages, while reflecting on the lives and memories of their donors, as teary eyed family members listened. First year medical student, Rafael Lemus, reflected on the ceremony. “It’s a perfect opportunity to remember why we are here in the first place. It’s not about dry facts, it’s about remembering the people…,” he said. “…it’s about the person, not just a list of symptoms. It will be something I will remember for the rest of my career.”

Donor remains are placed on metal tables covered with white or burgundy cloth; adorning each cloth was an array of flowers, a ceremonial candle and photos of fond memories of each donor and their loved ones. Members of the Armed Services were draped in the American flag and given special honors by the university’s Reserve Officer’s Training Corp. (JROTC). “I feel this ceremony will actually give people closure for their loved ones,” said Damilola (Lola) Awonusi, first year medical student.

A letter is read by each first year medical student’s team representative, explaining their collective inspired experiences through the course of the program. Each first year medical student in the program, is encouraged to reach out to the donor’s family members to exchange information and learn about the donor’s lives. “We consider the donors to be our first patients. It’s always important to remember they are people first and having this interaction with the families, the people who loved them the most, is important for establishing that kind of relationship,” stated Arnold Obungu, first year medical student.

THE MEDICAL SCHOOL invites the family of cadaver donors to a memorial service as a way of expressing appreciation for the donation and to make the experience more personable for the students. IU Northwest Medical Student Damilola Awonusi snuffs the candles on a table as everyone looks on.

Although, some students and medical professionals alike, find the program unorthodox. “Some physicians have gone to the lengths to report the program…,” said Dr. Talarico, Program Director and Founder. Several years ago, Dr. Talarico was asked by Stephen W. Carmichael, the retiring Chair Emeritus of the Mayo Clinic to write an article about his teaching philosophy and program. It gave him an opportunity to write about the program and prove his theory and principle. It was published in the leading national medical journal on anatomy.

With the support of fellow colleagues, the program has become a “scholarly teaching paradigm, now a paradox,” stated Dr. Talarico. Allowing the Doctor, the opportunity to travel internationally to teach his philosophical approach to medicine. In March of this year, Dr. Talarico is planning to travel to Vietnam and India in 2018.

Some students found the experience very rewarding. “It’s very important, to understand what an important gift this was from all of our first patients…”, said Taylor Cable, a first year medical student. “…you can’t put in words how extensive their gift will be and how it will effect in the future. It’s nothing you’d expect to experience, until you’ve experienced it.” The program teaches the student how to show respect, while showing the patient dignity no matter the case. Students like Lola, feel programs like this will improve doctor/patient relationships. “Knowing a little background about the patient and family, will definitely bring patients and physicians together,” Damilola stated.

FAMILY MEMBERS OF one of the anatomical donors honored at the ceremony greet one of the medical students, Damilola Awonusi. The lab tables used by the students containing the cadavers are draped and decorated with their photos and flowers.

Many medical students feel programs like I.U. Northwest are essential in developing patient/doctor trust and should be implemented in all medical schools worldwide. When asked about medical schools applying his concept of training, Dr. Talarico stated, “If I had my way, every medical school would be doing it. And I think every medical school should do it…”

“When we go into our future practices, when we see other patients, this will be something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives,” stated Arnold Obungu.

Dr. Talarico feels that it is a good learning experience for the students. It makes them better physicians and most importantly, good for the patients and their families.

“…we owe it to them,” stated Dr. Talarico.

 

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