Honoring Our Anatomical Donors through the Convocation of Thanks

uvmmedicine blogger Elizabeth McLeod '20
uvmmedicine blogger Elizabeth McLeod ’20

The Larner College of Medicine Class of 2020 recently honored those who have chosen to make the ultimate gift, the gift of anatomical donation, at the annual Convocation of Thanks (COT) ceremony. As a newly minted first year medical student, there was nothing I had anticipated more than learning about the human body first-hand in Gross Anatomy. This course is a revered rite of passage for all medical students. It was a surreal experience to “meet” our donor that first day, followed by weeks of the most invasive physical exam most of us will ever do. All too often, the grueling hours of study and intense workload separate us from our friends and families, and can depersonalize our work. Even so, every day spent in the anatomy lab with our donors was a reminder of our own frailty and humanity in its own way, with the COT reflecting this experience.

The yearly COT honors those that make anatomical donations to the medical, physical therapy, and resident programs, as well as neuroscience undergraduate programs. There were over 200 attendees at this year’s ceremony, including medical students from the Class of 2020, physical therapy students, and the family members and friends of the donors, many of whom traveled great distances to attend. The ceremony began with a warm welcome from Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Dr. William B. Jeffries. Several student speakers and student musical performances followed this welcome, as well as an additional faculty address by Dr. Zail Suzanne Berry from Palliative Care. There was time set aside for friends and family members to speak about their loved ones and some short closing words before mingling with light fare. Attendees gathered around the memorial tables set up with photographs and memorabilia provided by some of the donors and families, and many shared stories about donors’ lives.

As a member of the Convocation of Thanks Planning Committee, I had the honor of combing through the writings, words, and pictures of our donors. Like many of them, I am also a Vermonter. I grew up locally, attending grade school and high school in Vermont, and earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont. Through the planning experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar names, individuals that my family and I personally knew from our community. Words cannot possibly express the gratitude I feel in knowing that these individuals have directly impacted my medical education through their selfless donations. This experience has  helped to humanize my medical education in a profound way, and for that I am very grateful.

So, to these donors and the countless others who have made the selfless gift of donation, thank you. The lessons you have taught us will stay with us for the rest of our medical careers and lives.

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