Anatomy Lab Chaplaincy Program

Student in a chapel having a gratitude service

"Together we are grateful, for we know The privilege it is to touch another, Whether in the name of science or love. The touching here has been made of both. By their extraordinary gifts These dead have taught the living how to touch."

Dr. John H. Stone, IV (Professor of Medicine)

University chaplains journey with students, faculty, and staff through the most difficult and challenging experiences and the most joyous milestones of higher education. The Emory School of Medicine Human Anatomy Course is all of that and more. In the anatomy lab, aspiring physicians, physician assistants, and physical therapists learn "how to touch."

In the anatomy lab, university chaplains and students embody Emory's motto The wise heart seeks knowledge." We grow in knowledge and wisdom. Students learn not only human anatomy – they learn about themselves, about humanity and about creation. The presence of a chaplain is a reminder that their work is larger than themselves and extends beyond the present moment. Through relationships with a chaplain in the lab, students begin to understand what it is to be part of a multi-disciplinary care team and to consider the many ways that chaplains are partners for them and their patients and families.

Fundamentally, the chaplain's work in the lab is to provoke the students to think more deeply than organs, nerves, bones, and muscles and think about how they are being formed as compassionate caregivers. There are three elements of the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life's partnership with the School of Medicine Human Anatomy Lab:

Chaplain in the Anatomy Lab

A university chaplain is present in the anatomy lab when students are first introduced to their "first patient," when they make their first cut, and periodically throughout the anatomy course. The chaplain is present to support the students or talk with them as they engage with the human body in a unique way. The chaplain is available to talk in the lab or outside the lab about anything that comes up for students – ethically, spiritually, emotionally – during the anatomy course.

Service of Gratitude

This service is an opportunity for students to express gratitude for their “first patient” and for what they learned about life, about death, about one another, and about themselves in the anatomy course. Students express gratitude through music, poetry, art, or other reflections. These services take place once a year each for the Division of Physical Therapy and the MD Program respectively. 

Body Donor Service at Decatur Cemetery

Each April, the ashes of body donors are returned to their families and/or interred at a local cemetery. Donors' families are invited to a simple graveside service of interment and students and faculty from Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Mercer University offer their reflection and gratitude to the families of their "first patients."

"…so emerges a fine paradox, that out of the cutting and the sawing something beautiful has been built, from the bits of fat, the bone sawdust, the arteries that dried out and broke when you least wanted, from the tatters, the scraps, the ashes of the human phoenixes – the cadavers that were given to you for your work – a harvest emerges of two things. First, there is, of course, the knowledge that will help you to maintain the health of living bodies. But perhaps equally important are the new resources that will help you in healing yourselves, since you have, in a sense, looked into the abyss, plumbed it and continued with life; thus there is a new wholeness for you that embraces even death, and this is a step on the path toward wisdom."

Dr. Albert Howard Carter, III (1989 Service of Gratitude) From First Cut: A Season in the Human Anatomy Lab

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