Nursing, Medical Students Honor the Gift of Anatomical Donors

Medical students process into Dahlgren, which is full of congregants
Students from the School of Medicine and School of Nursing process into Dahlgren Chapel holding candles symbolizing their gratitude toward the anatomical donors who helped further their education.

Posted in News Stories  |  Tagged , ,

(March 20, 2024) — Students from Georgetown’s School of Medicine and School of Nursing came together to honor and pay respect to those who donated their bodies to benefit their education, and to express gratitude to their families, at the annual interfaith Anatomical Donor Memorial Celebration at Dahlgren Chapel on the university’s campus.

Dean Jones speaks from a podium
Lee Jones, MD

The students work with and learn from cadavers as part of their early training at the medical school and as part of the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) Program at the nursing school. Dozens of the students who worked with cadavers over the last year or so attended the standing-room-only ceremony on March 18.

Lee Jones, MD, dean for medical education, welcomed the families by sharing the importance of the students’ “first patient” and acknowledged the sacrifice made by their loved ones.

“You respected the wishes of your loved one, perhaps sacrificing closure and the funeral traditions of your family, for them to give Georgetown this phenomenal gift,” he said. “In the midst of such sadness and loss, you recognized their amazing gift and you loved them and honored that. Thank you.”

Prayers from the Hindu, Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths were offered by students reflecting Georgetown’s dedication to inclusivity.

Personal Reflection

Umayr R. Shaikh, MPH (M’26), helped plan the celebration and shared a moving reflection on his time with his donor, including the fear of his first day in the cadaver lab in 2023.

Umayr speaks from a podium
Umayr R. Shaikh, MPH (M’26),

“When we unzipped the bags that housed [the cadaver], the first thing I instinctively said was, ‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ as if in that instant, my patient-centered communication training kicked in,” Shaikh said. “Because at that moment, all I saw in front of me was just that person, and immediately that fear dissipated… as if this person was reaching out their hand to comfort and welcome me.”

Shaikh also shared that he and his lab mates brought a card to accompany the female cadaver on the final journey to the cremation site. With gentle humor, he shared that the team decided she was a “tulip gal” and began a lengthy scavenger hunt on the Georgetown campus to pick tulips to also send.

“The relationships we built with our cadavers as people, as fellow human beings with a soul and a story, blossomed just like the flowers we left with her on our last day,” Shaikh said.

Shaikh noted that the ceremony is often timed just before the third-year medical students begin their clinical rotations.

“In less than a week, we transition from our classroom sciences to clinical rotations, meaning that the hands which we previously grasped in order to examine all of its nerves, muscles and blood supply will soon be grasping onto ours in real time, asking if everything’s going to be okay.

“It is the foundation of what it means to be a healer, but beyond that, what it means to be a human being — all of it contained within this puzzling yet profoundly formative time.”


Today, I held her hand for the first time. As I hold it and prepare to learn more, I wonder just how many hands that this one held?

The table next to ours — they notice an impression on the left ring finger. A wedding band. I wonder how their partner is doing. The lives they swayed continue to move long after they’re gone.

Then, I close my eyes and I swear I can see them all there. All of a sudden, this feeling washes over me, a feeling of pure wonder.

I wonder how many children, grandchildren were held in this arm I now see. I wonder how many crying faces were consoled by this gentle hand.

I wonder how many times those feet ran to someone in need, how many times those tear ducts wept in sadness and in joy. I wonder how many people this heart loved. How many times it broke, it pained, and it sang. I wonder how those 86 billion neurons forming 100 trillion connections saw the world around it. How it thought about the world. The dreams it conjured during the night and the actions it brought forth during the day. I wonder how many earth-changing ideas were stored in that vast network of information, the same information that taught them how to think, to mourn, to discipline, to forgive, and to love.

I wonder how many of these nerves experienced the height of pain and pleasure alike, how the best and worst food they’ve ever tasted danced on their taste buds. I wonder about the lives they touched, and if they have touched the hearts of others even a fraction of the amount they have touched mine then they must be the most loved people in the entire world. Whatever their imperfections or flaws, the bedrock of who we all are, the choice to place the future on their shoulders so we stand upon them reflects the giants they truly were.

I can see the past but also into the future. In less time than I can fathom it is going to be me on that table. And I hope the first time I am seen they see the smile that I will undoubtedly have on my face, as I remember the giants whose shoulders I stood on as the future generation stands on mine.

If there is such a thing as magic in this world, I cannot think of a more perfect place to find it. It is the body that houses and is a part of the soul which connects us all. And when I reach out my hand to hold theirs I can feel that life is all around me. It holds my heart captive.

Distinguished Education

The students say the Georgetown experience when working with cadavers distinguishes their education from others.

Tiara speaks from a podium
Tiara Taylor (G’26)

DNAP student Tiara Taylor (G’26) said having the opportunity to learn with cadavers sets Georgetown apart and offers a significant benefit to her education.

“Because of them, we are able to see an authentic representation of what we learn from textbooks before we go out into the clinical setting and practice, so they are making a big difference in our education as well as the lives of the patients we will encounter,” Taylor said.

Anna Jent
Anna Jent (G’26)

“It is important to acknowledge the family’s loss, and show our gratitude for allowing us this interaction with the body of their loved one,” she added. “I am extremely grateful for the privilege of this incredible gift.”

DNAP student Anna Jent (G’26) says honoring the donors at the Mass “feels like a natural extension of holistic care.”

“It is an incredible gift to learn from our donors in the anatomy lab,” she said. “In learning from and caring for our donors, you really experience the coalescence of science and humanity. This centers us and reminds us why we went into health care to begin with — to help people.”

The Celebration of the Mass and Anatomical Donor Memorial Celebration was organized by a committee led by John DiBello (M’26) and Umayr Shaikh (M’26). Fr. James Shea, SJ, presided.