a ceremony of appreciation

Invited by Dr. Jen Hartmark-Hill,  I make my way to downtown Phoenix for a Ceremony of Appreciation. The event, organized by the Medical and Allied Health students at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, honors individuals who donate their bodies to the anatomy lab.

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Upon arriving I meet Dr. Rebecca Fisher, the director of the Clinical Anatomy lab. She tells me about the personal connection students have to a willed body donor. She shares both the educational aspects as well as some of the emotional impact the experience holds for everyone. I look around the room as we talk and I see students, faculty and their families (newborns are in the mix too). The energy is celebratory as everyone prepares.

The evening includes art, poetry, prose, and music (ukulele, piano, song and dance).

One student names his donor Bruce. You looked like a Bruce to me, he reads into the microphone. Another student tells of holding the hands of her donor and notes the nail polish, chips of color. One guesses the age of his donor and wonders out loud, are you a grandfather?

There is practical (medical) information they gather from their donor’s body along with a natural wonder and  curiosity about the life it held.

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I can’t help but make connections between art students and medical students and their draw to the human body. I have to wonder, do they learn about Leonardo da Vinci in medical and science labs?

The medical students describe the learning experience as 2D (text book or diagram) and compare it to 3D (real-life) experience. Artists use a similar language. Art students study Anatomy (for the artist) to understand the skeletal and muscular system. The study is followed by Life drawing where art students apply what they’ve learned to a live model. Learned and necessary skills to both medicine and art are observation and attention to detail.

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And speaking of detail…
The student who draws this skull and heart ↑ is named Dylan. I introduce myself to him and congratulate his fine work.

I appreciate the imaginative way he personalized the drawings (of his donor). Dylan includes the usual anatomical description seen in medical illustration like frontal bone and then he adds more individualized (and more telling of the human-being) descriptions like bank teller, sweet toothjeopardy loversingle mother, grandmother…etc.

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As I thank Jen (Dr. Harmtark-Hill) for inviting me, we agree the evening is moving and meaningful. And before we part for the evening  she mentions an approach to education that she calls  Appreciative Inquiry.

 I often speak with my colleagues about the fact that we are privileged to teach these medical students—they are incredibly good and altruistic individuals. If we can find ways to protect that compassion, kindness and caring throughout their medical training, while instilling knowledge and skills, we will have done their future patients a great service.

I understand Appreciative Inquiry to be a way of seeing (worldview) and a way of being (process) that supports the goodness in people (individuals, organizations and communities).

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A letter written to a donor and expressing gratitude.

Thank you Jen for inviting me to this most extraordinary ceremony. And thanks to the students for a creative and moving evening.


As I come to the end of my post I can’t help but think of a phrase that influences the work I do. I know with certainty it directs me to unique experiences like this one.

Summum bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.

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4 thoughts on “a ceremony of appreciation

  1. My amazing daughter, Dr. Jennifer Hartmark-Hill. shared this fascinating event with me, and I must say I am very impressed with this ceremony of appreciation.The medical students that will benefit by this are very fortunate.The creativity and especially the personal dignity of the donor was definitely celebrated in a very respectful way.This subject is very touching to me, as my late husband was a donor to the anatomy lab at the University of Minnesota medical school, just two years ago. As with all donors, it is, as you wrote- “to the highest good”.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience Beverly…personal dignity of the donor…very much holds true.
    And…I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with your daughter. She is amazing.

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