The Anatomy Course During COVID-19: The Impact of Cadaver-Based Learning on the Initiation of Reflection on Death

Anette Wu*, Que Yun Xiao, Sean McWatt, Rachel Utomo, Austin Talis, Kerstin Saraci, Cecilia Brassett, Mandeep Gill Sagoo, Richard Wingate, Chung Liang Chien, Hannes Traxler, Jens Waschke, Franziska Vielmuth, Yukari Yamada, Takeshi Sakurai, Mina Zeroual, Jorgen Olsen, Salma El-Batti, Suvi Viranta-Kovanen, Kevin KeayWilliam Stewart, Carol Kunzel, Paulette Bernd, Heike Kielstein, Geoffroy P.J.C. Noël

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person cadaveric dissection laboratories for teaching anatomy were omitted by many schools around the world. While knowledge domains can be easily evaluated via remote exams, non-traditional discipline-independent skills such as those encouraged through reflection on the topic of death are often overlooked. This study investigated how different anatomy course formats played a role in initiating students’ reflections on death during the COVID-19 pandemic. Method: In fall 2020, 217 medical, dental, premedical, and health sciences students from 13 international universities discussed differences in their anatomy courses online. Formats of anatomy courses ranged from dissection-based, prosection-based, hybrid (combination of dissection and prosection) to no laboratory exposure at all. Students’ responses to the question, “Did/does your anatomy course initiate your thinking about life's passing?” were collected, and they self-reported themes that were present in their reflections on death using a multiple-choice prompt. Statistical analyses to detect differences between students with and without exposure to cadavers were performed using the chi-squared test. Results: When comparing students who had exposure to human anatomical specimens to those who had no exposure, the majority of students with exposure thought that the course did initiate thoughts about life’s passing, compared to students without exposure (P < 0.05). Reflection themes were consistent across groups. Discussion: These findings indicate that anatomy dissection courses are important for the initiation of students’ feelings about the topic of death. Omission of cadaveric dissection- or prosection-based laboratories will decrease the likelihood that students initiate reflection on this topic and gain important transferable skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1044
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Anatomy course
  • COVID-19
  • Dissection course
  • Peer interactions
  • Reflection on death
  • Students


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