book review: Body of Work

I wish I remember how I stumbled upon this incredible text, but I honestly don’t. Nonetheless, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that in many ways Dr. Christine Montross’ Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab got me through the first year of medical school.

I’ve been very open about how anatomy lab was and still is one of the most transformative and difficult experiences of my life, both as a subject of study and emotionally. When I first began studying anatomy, I did recognize the great privilege it was to study the human body from this perspective. I was almost unspeakably grateful to those who donated their bodies so that my colleagues and I could become better healers. But when we first started dissections in October of last year, I did not understand how integral this experience was for me as a physician in training. I did not understand why I was learning about how to ‘save lives’ by studying the dead. I felt traumatized. Every time I stepped into anatomy lab, I simultaneously felt grateful, sad and anxious. Everything felt so unnatural. I knew rationally that the cadavers felt no pain during our dissections but that did not prevent me from wincing at the sound of each rib cracking or a saw cutting through bone.

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what med students feel

A few years ago my husband, then fiancé, gave me the book What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine by Danielle Ofri, MD. I had been on this journey to becoming a physician for some time and had received wonderful advice and education from my undergraduate professors and mentors about a career in medicine. However, being the emotional person I am, I was unsettled by the lack of advice regarding dealing with the emotional difficulties of the field. My husband had previously read this book and thought it would help me navigate the next step of my path to becoming a physician and he was definitely right.

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