First Year Anatomy by David A. Waters, M.D.

I entered the University of Wisconsin Medical School in September 1979 and gross anatomy was one of the first classes I had that semester.  I was returning to school after a gap year following my graduation from undergrad the previous year.  I had been a fierce student from 7th grade through my senior year in college and had completely been burned out academically by June 1978.

My return to the rigors of academic work was not smooth.  I had lived a care free existence for 15 months including travel in Europe, the Middle East and a wonderful summer in Seattle.  I was not prepared to gear up for an 18 credit semester competing with very smart and very motivated classmates.  Fortunately, I found myself in a tank group with 3 wonderful people who literally pulled me along through the 16 weeks of gross anatomy.

Meeting our cadaver, a very old shriveled and pickled man, was a fairly bizarre experience and spending day after day dissecting him was not easy or ever routine.  I remember feeling grateful to this man and his family for allowing us the experience to learn on his body.  I got somewhat used to the smell of the formaldehyde but never really got comfortable with cutting him apart to expose and explore all the muscles, bones, veins, arteries and nerves that we were tasked with finding and learning.  Also, it was a strange ritual every day to open the tank, crank him up and out of the formaldehyde and remove the cloth covering that shrouded his body.  Strange too was the reverse of that process at the end of each day.

We received no preparation for this experience other than we were told we needed to respect our cadavers and to take our study seriously.  I think they should have sounded us out prior to the course and helped us prepare for what was to come.

David A. Waters, M.D.
Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers
Milwaukee, WI