By Poon Wynne Hsing
Phase II Medicine student

Poon Wynne Hsing is a second year medical student from NUS Medicine. This is a reflection she penned following the completion of a dissection elective that took place over the semester break between her first and second year. In the reflection, she addresses Associate Professor Ng Yee Kong, the anatomy professor in charge of the Silent Mentors programme in the school.

 

The NUS Medicine Silent Mentors programme takes care of body donations to the school and organises dissection classes for students and residents in addition to the anatomy prosection classes, where students study cadavers that have already been dissected by experts.

Dear Prof Ng,


Yesterday was my last day at a dissection elective session, where I’ve been working on and working with Mdm L. I regret being unable to go in today to finish up my attempts at (some improvised) subcutaneous stitching to restore Mdm L’s face, after managing about 3/4 yesterday, due to other school commitments.


I just wanted to thank you for (re)starting this dissection elective, and to also extend thanks to the Anatomy Department for making these weeks of learning happen. In my opinion, dissection did not teach me very much more about anatomy that what the Year 1 syllabus has already taught (if I still don’t know my anatomy I don’t think I should pass Year 1...). What it did do is to allow me time to appreciate anatomy better – I felt that the experience of cutting, separating and getting through the layers not emphasised as “important structures” in the anatomy textbook diagrams, and clean prosections, allowed me to better understand anatomy as it would be found in patients.


My favourite times in dissection (or suturing) were usually in the quiet hours of morning, lunchtime and closing. I liked working away at the gastrointestinal tract, or heart, or leg – consider the amounts of fat around organs, what each finding could mean about Mdm L. while she was alive, decipher what I was looking at, suture in peace without people jarring Mdm L. in attempts to suture. The atmosphere in the hall felt quietly respectful to our Silent Mentors. I think those moments are what I enjoyed; when I felt that I was doing justice to Mdm L.’s decision to let me/us medical students study and learn.

 

Clearing fat, suturing skin (especially returning the skull cap – I knew I wanted to try do Mdm L. the basic courtesy of returning her with a proper head shape) is rather boring, repetitive work. Yet, I find that it is the minimum requirement to maximize our learning (otherwise, our silent mentors would have donated their bodies for nothing). I will admit to hands smelling of Anatomy Hall, fingers feeling either crampy or swollen (after suturing; maybe I have bad technique) after dissection days.

 

I still think these 3 weeks of attending the dissection elective were among the most impactful days of learning in Year 1. My takeaways were immaterial but also invaluable; I think of Mdm L. – 74 years old, younger than my grandmother (possibly somebody’s grandmother), her family who let us have her to learn from – and find that this body donation process is evidence of human generosity. I don’t think I can thank our silent mentors and their families enough for letting us study, learn and possibly be more human through the process of dissection and suturing.


I hope the dissection elective will continue through the years. I also find that suturing is a very vital section not to be left out, not so that we can learn new suturing techniques (there will be time for that in our later years I believe), but so that there is closure. We cut them open, we sew them back – I think there is significance in that. In Z’s words “it lets me sleep at night” and I agree – my relatives often ask me why it doesn’t spook me and I think it is simply that I know we did our best both dissecting and learning, and suturing them back.


What I mean to say is, thank you Prof and everyone in the anatomy department! Every minute spent in dissection has been great.


Best regards,

Wynne