They congregated in a nondescript, dimly lit room in the building's lower level.
Approximately 100 first-year medical students at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine gathered at the Health Professions Education Building on Thursday afternoon. The students met to pay homage to the anonymous men and women who donated their bodies to science and were dissected by the students last semester.
Students and faculty spoke during the 15-minute memorial service.
"This isn't a funeral, of course; these men and women have already passed away," said student Andrew Lupo, who helped organize the event. "Their loved ones have grieved and mourned and moved along with peaceful memories. Nonetheless, it's hard to know what to say for a moment like this."
Select students took turns lighting 20 candles at the front of the room -- one for each body donated last semester.
"We are strangers to one another, them and us, yet they entrusted us with all they had to give for our benefit so that we could learn and that we could make a difference in the life of countless others," Lupo said. "Through us, they will continue to contribute in new and meaningful ways, and they will never know the impact they've had and the good that we will commit thanks to their selfless gift."
Approximately 1,800 students have taken part in the gross anatomy program since the school was founded in the 1970s.
Event organizers couldn't say how many bodies had gone through the school during the same time period. The bodies are donated voluntarily to the university.
The students break into small groups and practice dissecting the bodies throughout the semester, said Gary McCord, associate dean of student affairs. Almost all of them, he said, have never seen a dead body outside of a funeral before. None of the donation is wasted, as the medical students carve the bodies from head to toe.
McCord said the hands-on experience is critical to preparing future doctors.
"The body is three-dimensional and studying something on a two-dimensional page, it's hard to put it all together," McCord said. "You really need to see it in all dimensions and there's something about being able to put your hands on it that makes it stick."
Unlike most medical programs, he said, the students will rotate through cadavers throughout the course, rather than stick with one body.
"If you look at people on the outside, we all look different, and yet ... Lets take our noses: Every single one looks different from one another, but you might say every single one is normal," McCord said. "It's the same on the inside."
The practice helps the students learn the range of what's normal for internal organs, McCord said.
The memorial, organized by students, has been held every year for the past 10 years. The memorial commemorates the completion of their gross anatomy training.
"They shared all they have, literally, all they have for your knowledge to become future doctors," said Dr. Wei-Jung Chen, assistant dean for student affairs at the Temple campus.
Chen described a cadaver as the best type of teacher -- one who never scolds or gives pop quizzes.
"Facing human mortality is never an easy issue, regardless of whether it's a family member or friend or relative or even a stranger," Chen said.
Student Connie Redic said she was really nervous at first to touch a dead and partially decomposed body.
"We were all really scared," Redic said. "No one had really used a scalpel before to cut, and these bodies let us know it was OK to make mistakes. By the end of the course we were all kind of professionals at cutting. We knew where the lines went; we knew how deep to go."
Neither words on a page nor practice mannequins could compare, she said.
"The human body, where the tissue is still soft and you feel the arteries and veins, I don't think that there's any experience like that, and it kind of gets you used to seeing those organs in real life," Redic said. "That's what I'll be operating on whenever I'm a surgeon or whatever I do down the line."
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