Convocation of Thanks: Einstein First-Years Honor Their First Patients

On the evening of March 25, the members of the Class of 2017 gathered in the Lubin Dining Hall with a group of their teachers and mentors. They came to pay tribute to 40 very special people. Although the guests of honor were unable to attend, their presence was strongly felt.

The occasion was Einstein's 2014 Convocation of Thanks. Organized and conducted each year by first-year students upon their completion of the gross anatomy and embryology course, the event marks what may be the most challenging initial rite of passage in medical school: learning about the structure of human body through dissecting a cadaver.

Dr. Todd R. Olson, professor of anatomy & structural biology and director of the first-year course, started the event at Einstein in 1995. The annual ritual "brings a measure of closure and allows each student to reflect on what it meant to him or her to learn anatomy on the remains of another human being," he explained. Most importantly, it "gives them a chance to express their appreciation to their cadaver-patients—the people who, by donating their bodies to science, made this profoundly important educational experience possible."

Honoring a Selfless Gift

The evening began with dinner and music by the Einstein Jazz Band. Students sat in clusters of four and five, with their lab teammates, at tables each adorned with a single white rose. In his opening remarks, first-year student presenter Justin Wheat observed, "Anatomy is the bedrock of our learning and growth as physicians. We've come together tonight to celebrate the 40 individuals who gave us this special gift."

He described anatomy lab as "one of the most trying tests of our young medical careers" and "an experience that will make us better students and better physicians," adding that the Convocation felt like "more of a transition than the conclusion of a course."

Artistic Expressions of Gratitude

Many participants used music, poetry and other modes of artistic expression to convey their messages of gratitude. A student string quartet set the mood with the gentle strains of Pachelbel's Canon. Following a video created for the occasion, Jacob Taylor, one of a dozen program organizers, called the lab teams up in pairs to light candles in remembrance of their cadaver patients. Two students read original poems acknowledging their donors' humanity; while several others gave musical performances.  

Dr. John Loehner, assistant professor of medicine at Einstein and medical director of Montefiore Medical Center's Moses Campus—who also serves as one of the faculty guides for the first-year anatomy course—noted, "The cadaver is every student's first real patient and most important teacher. I vividly remember my own experience and the impact it had on me. It makes a lasting impression. You learn how important it is to treat patients, both pre- and post-mortem, with dignity and respect, and to remember that every 'body' has something to teach us."

Dr. Sherry A. Downie, clinical professor of anatomy & structural biology and physical medicine & rehabilitation, spoke of the thousands of lives each student will potentially touch over the course of their careers, starting with their cadaver-patient.

To conclude the program, Annemieke Wilcox unveiled the class gift: a small pin she designed depicting a hand cupping a human heart. A digital painting created by Olga Myszko, which was signed by the entire class, will go on permanent display in the basement hall corridor linking the Belfer and Forchheimer buildings.

Learn more about Einstein’s anatomical donation program.

The class of 2017's gift
The class of 2017's gift
Students received this pin as a memento that they can carry with them throughout their careers
Students received this pin as a memento that they can carry with them throughout their careers
Groups of students teamed to light a candle in memory of their cadaver teacher
Groups of students teamed to light a candle in memory of their cadaver teacher

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