Preparing Students Emotionally for the Human Dissection Experience

  • Anja BöckersEmail author


The process of dissecting human bodies as well as the reflection of this process inherently bears the potential for emotional stress. This emotional stress impedes the students’ adequate learning process and prevents them from developing medical competencies such as professional empathy for the students’ first and future patients. Fortunately, students—in particular females ones—experience strongest emotions in anticipating the dissection. Shortly after the first contact with the cadaver, a habituation process starts in most students and their fears decrease significantly. Different strategies such as intellectualization or distancing have been described and show how students might handle the challenge of mental distress in the dissection course. Fear and emotional reactions due to dissection are reduced significantly if the students feel well prepared to enter the course. Therefore, mental distress in the dissection course demands anatomists’ attention and requires their efforts to support the initial habituation process. Dissection is structured differently in different medical curricula: The dissection course might be placed in the first or the second year of training, it might be run modularly or continuously, it might be based on functional body systems or on topographic body regions and finally, it might be founded on prosection rather than on dissection. We summarize precourse interventions, describe procedures that help students to work through their emotions at the time of dissection and come to terms with their emotional experiences at the end of the course. Our suggestions on how and when students should be prepared and guided need to be modified according to how dissection is structured in the curriculum.


Mental Distress Habituation Process Dissection Group Body Donor Audiovisual Material 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Anatomy and Cell BiologyUlm UniversityUlmGermany

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