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Teddy is a final-year Medical Student at the University of Nottingham, which uses full-body dissection as a teaching method. She shares her experience with tips for how you can prepare for your first dissection.

What Is Dissection And Why Is It Useful?

Dissection comes from the Latin word “dissecare” which means to “cut to pieces”. It involves the dismemberment of a living organism to study its anatomical structure. When you start Medical School, this means looking at bodies of people who have donated their bodies in order to be studied further.

Most of you have seen a skeleton in a textbook, or even a diagram of the heart with its anatomy outlined in minute detail – but nothing quite compares to seeing the real thing. Dissection is an incredible opportunity to bring any textbook learning to life right in front of you.

The most important thing to remember with dissecting is that each of those bodies in the room was once a real, living, breathing person. For me, it just puts me in even more awe that they gave their body up for our learning benefit.

It’s also a way to familiarise yourself with death since you’re working with dead bodies. The sooner you can make peace with this experience, the better, as you’ll inevitably encounter this during your Medical career.

Another benefit of dissection is that allows you to familiarise yourself with some surgical tools, which is exciting for budding surgeons. Furthermore, doing the dissection yourself (or usually together in a group) makes the whole experience very interactive.

There’s one thing you’ll never be with dissections, and that’s bored!

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What About Prosection?

If your Medical School doesn’t do dissections, they almost certainly do prosections. Prosections are essentially a dissection done by someone else.

With prosections, you can have the emphasis of what you’re looking at changed. For example, you can have two prosections of the forearm, but one will have the emphasis on showing all the vessels, while the other shows all the nerves instead.

The great thing about prosections is that they’re usually done very neatly, exposing all the relevant anatomy beautifully. I find them incredibly useful because dissections done by early Med Students are definitely not as neat, and you may not be able to expose all the anatomy yourself.

My First Dissection

My first dissection was on the first dissection day of the second semester in my first year. I was nervous; I’d never seen a dead body before. What if I instantly pass out? What if I cut the wrong body part? All these questions swirled around in my mind as I made my way to the anatomy suite.

As soon as I entered, my nostrils were hit with the pungent smell of formaldehyde. We were split into groups of five to work on a body at each time, and each session would be focused on one specific body part or system.

For our first dissection session, we were dealing with the thorax. which meant getting rib saws out to get to the heart and lungs. It was very hands-on, and there were definitely a few people who felt too queasy to continue.

The anatomists were extremely understanding and let anyone who didn’t feel comfortable sit in a room a little more removed from the gore, where they could instead look at prosections, X-Rays and CT scans instead.

I was nervous, but the more I did this, the more comfortable I became with dissection.

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How To Prepare For Dissection

My top tips for preparing for your first dissection are:

  1. Read up on the body part/system beforehand. It will help consolidate your knowledge!
  2. Eat before you go in. The formaldehyde smells a lot and it makes you feel hungry while dissecting, which feels weird.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get stuck in, especially if dissections are done in groups. It’s a good way to get to know your fellow Medics and share knowledge.
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