Ceremony commemorates value of body donation to science
People who donate their bodies to science contribute significantly to educating future doctors and physical therapists. Learning about human anatomy is a key part of medical training, and Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD, explores how and why people choose to make this donation. She directs the Anatomical Gift Program and the anatomy lab at Upstate. For more on the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 315-464-8582, or click here.
Host Amber Smith: Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, invites you to be The Informed Patient, with the podcast that features experts from Central New York's only academic medical center. I'm your host, Amber Smith.
An important part of medical school and physical therapy training is learning human anatomy, and people who choose to donate their bodies to science contribute significantly to educating these future health care professionals.
We'll learn more about how and why people donate their bodies from Dr. Dana Mihaila. She is director of the Anatomical Gift Program and the anatomy lab at Upstate.
Welcome to "The Informed Patient," Dr. Mihaila.
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Thank you very much, Amber.
Host Amber Smith: Now, Upstate students organize an annual memorial service to pay tribute to those who donated their bodies, and I know that's very meaningful to many of the survivors who come, as well as the students.
How do you describe the services that you've attended over the years?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: The memorial service is a token of appreciation that honors our donors. It reflects our gratitude and respect for all the donors to SUNY Upstate Anatomical Gift Program, and in the same time, our deep appreciation for the compassion and support of their families and friends who attend this memorial service.
Host Amber Smith: Can you talk about what students gain from participating in the anatomy lab?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: You know, anatomy has always been the cornerstone in the field of medicine. The study of anatomy dates back to the ancient Greeks, and the first use of human bodies for anatomical research and education occurred in the fourth century B.C.
Knowledge of the human anatomy forms the basis to the understanding of normal body functions and of the pathology behind all the diseases.
Host Amber Smith: This is required training for anyone who's going to become a doctor, also physical therapist as well. Are there other medical professionals that do the anatomy lab training?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Yes, there are. Every health care professional needs to have an understanding of human anatomy, some of them more in-depth than others. All students from our university benefit of the anatomy laboratory.
The students that spend more time are the Doctor of Physical Therapy and physician assistant programs. They spend several months in the anatomy lab.
And the Doctor of Medicine program students spend one whole year.
Host Amber Smith: With so much education available virtually online, how does a literally hands-on class like this compare?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: For health care professionals, the human body is the focus of investigation and intervention on a daily basis.
For this reason, the study of anatomy on human bodies is essential to safe medical practice. The anatomy laboratory experience improves students' understanding of what they do and why they do it. This surely has to be of benefit both for the safety of the patient and satisfaction of the doctor as a professional.
Integration of newer ,, and modern technologies is an addition to the anatomy laboratory, which helps retention of anatomical knowledge and its clinical relevance.
Host Amber Smith: Can you tell us how anatomy is taught? Do you go system by system, organ by organ, or is it disease-specific? How do you go about teaching today's, or the future, doctors anatomy?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: In our university, we have a curriculum that, it's system-based, and anatomy is taught in every system being integrated with physiology and pathology and all the other disciplines.
So, for instance, to give you an example, our medical students will start in the beginning of the year by studying musculoskeletal system from all the aspects that this involves. They continue with the study of the nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory, renal, endocrine and gastrointestinal. So, almost every month, every six weeks, they will switch to another system, and they are going to learn about the system from every perspective, anatomy being one of them.
Host Amber Smith: This is Upstate's "The Informed Patient" podcast. I'm your host, Amber Smith. I'm talking with Dr. Dana Mihaila, who is the director of Upstate's Anatomical Gift Program and the school's anatomy laboratory.
For relatives who have a family member who donates their body, how does that impact a funeral or memorial service?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Many families choose to have a memorial service without the donor being present.
Host Amber Smith: For how long are the bodies used at the medical school?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Our donors spend up to two years with us.
Host Amber Smith: What happens to the person's remains when the class ends?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: When the class ends, each donor is cremated at the university's expense, then the donor's cremains are returned to the family or to the person appointed by the donor.
Host Amber Smith: Let's talk about how people can become donors. Are there age requirements?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Yes, there are. The donor should be 18 years old and above. The program doesn't have an upper age limit. Our oldest donor was 107 years old, and we wish our future donors to reach at least this age. People interested in donating to our program can call us, and we provide a brochure explaining the whole process.
Host Amber Smith: So, Dr. Mihaila, if someone listening to this is interested in becoming a donor, is there a phone number or an email address for them?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Yes. our phone number, it's 315 (area code) 464-8582. And our email address, agp -- this stands for Anatomical Gift Program -- @upstate.edu (email@example.com).
Host Amber Smith: So is there paperwork? There must be paperwork to fill out ahead of time, right?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Yes, in the brochure there is paperwork necessary for donation. Most of our donors make a pledge during their life. For some of the donors, their family makes the decision.
Host Amber Smith: So a person can make the decision prior to death, or their family members or their survivors might be able to make the decision afterward.
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Exactly.
Host Amber Smith: What could disqualify a person from being a donor?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: There are criteria for donor acceptance into our program. All of them can be found in our brochure. Some of the ones that disqualify a person from becoming a donor are infectious disorders, contagious disease, organ donation, and there is a weight requirement relative to the height of the person.
Host Amber Smith: OK, so just because you want to make this donation, you might not be able to, depending?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Yes. There are situations when this is the reality.
Host Amber Smith: What happens if someone who signed up and said they wanted to be a donor dies when they're not in the Syracuse area?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: First of all, SUNY Upstate's program doesn't cover just Syracuse area, it covers Central New York area. If a person dies closer to another medical institution and outside our area, we guide and help the family to connect with that university. There are some donors, they live in our area, but wintertime, they go to Florida, for instance, and we encourage them to pledge to both programs, to our university and then university in Florida.
And it's very possible. It's no restriction to pledge to more than one program.
Host Amber Smith: Over the years, when you've spoken to people who are making the decision to donate their bodies upon death, what are some of the reasons they give for wanting to do this?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: I can say that the main reason that our donors pledge to the program is to advance medical education and research. Along the years we met isolated cases when financial considerations contributed to the decision.
Host Amber Smith: Is there any financial compensation for donating?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Donation is a gift. It's no compensation, but the university is going to take care of the cremation.
Host Amber Smith: I can't imagine myself, and I want to ask you, can you imagine someone becoming a doctor without having hands-on anatomy training in a lab like this?
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: If you ask my personal opinion, my answer will be, with capital letters, NO. I cannot imagine. I am a trained physician, and I can tell you that the experience in the anatomy laboratory doesn't have any other equal.
Host Amber Smith: Well, Dr. Mihaila, thank you so much for taking time to tell us about this.
Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD: Thank you for having me.
Host Amber Smith: My guest has been Dr. Dana Mihaila. She directs the Anatomical Gift Program at Upstate and also the anatomy lab.
"The Informed Patient" is a podcast covering health, science and medicine, brought to you by Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and produced by Jim Howe.
Find our archive of previous episodes at upstate.edu/informed.
This is your host, Amber Smith, thanking you for listening.