The curriculum of compassion: Connecting students with donor families

Ernest F. Talarico

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Physician training typically begins with dissection of anatomical donors, which is commonly used to teach structure and function. However, cadaveric dissection also provides opportunities for multifaceted educational experiences that build other skills and competencies critical to patient care. This chapter discusses a teaching paradigm in which students interact with families of the deceased persons whom they are dissecting. This novel approach represents a shift from the traditional paradigm, which emphasizes students’ clinical detachment, and restores identity to anatomical donors by treating them as “first patients.” This practice establishes the patient as the primary focus of medicine early in the curriculum. From patients’ arrival in the laboratory, through donor memorial services and even after the return of cremains, the “student-patient-family relationship” evolves, building connections and developing skills that directly affect future patient care. Learning anatomy and medicine through the first patient is achieved according to five guiding principles: First Patient; Knowledge; Reflection and Reflective Practice; Treating the Total Patient; and Professionalism. Here, these principles and their implementation are described, and their impact on student doctors and learning outcomes are discussed. Results suggest that mastery of basic science knowledge and competencies, including professionalism, compassion, and leadership skills, are enhanced by this protocol.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCommemorations and Memorials
Subtitle of host publicationExploring the Human Face of Anatomy
PublisherWorld Scientific Publishing Co.
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9789813143159
ISBN (Print)9789813143142
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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