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Anatomy Education Relies on Body Donor Program

I sat down in a fluorescent plastic chair in an ice cold, windowless room. I was a sophomore in college and it was my first lab experience at the University of Utah. Surrounding me, on big white tables, were the bodies of donors wrapped in plastic coverings. Nervously, the students gathered into groups and we surrounded our stations. Most of us had never seen a deceased human being before. Without hesitation, the teaching assistant (TA) unwrapped our donor and delicately began probing the cadaver, teaching us about the heart and the greater vessels.

Invaluable Lab Experience

Anatomy Lab

I watched in awe as our TA pointed out the structures we had been talking about all week in lecture. I began to wonder how students at other schools could possibly truly know their anatomy without a lab experience such as this. The 2D heart structures I had colored on paper were now in my palm. I began to practice tracing the pathway of blood through the atria and ventricles, curiously and carefully noticing the strength of the valves and the Chordae Tendinae. It all began to make sense. It was this day that I would fall in love with the study of anatomy, and I never looked back.

The excitement that my peers had demonstrated inspired me to share my love of anatomy with others through teaching, and I too became a teaching assistant. Although I had been a good student before this, I had not realized how much the practice of teaching would affect my life. The hands-on experience of working with cadavers and preparing dissections had solidified my knowledge more concretely than I could have ever anticipated. More importantly, it awakened a passion for teaching that I will have for the rest of my life.

Knowledge Begins to Click

I continued to work as an Anatomy TA for the Basic and Advanced Anatomy courses for four years, eventually moving to the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine to assist MS1 students with the anatomy component of their Foundations of Medicine course in 2018. As an assistant I was responsible for preparing dissections each week for the students to use as models for their own dissections, and to answer any questions they might have. I was always excited to see my peers have their own “ah-ha” moments as the anatomy knowledge began to click, much like it once had for me.

Today I am a PROMIS2U student, with hopes of matriculating at the U’s School of Medicine in 2022. PROMIS2U stands for “Pre-Matriculation Readiness for Ongoing Medical Student Success at the U,” and is a program that seeks to create opportunities for marginalized pre-med students. As part of my program, I had the incredible opportunity to take the Foundations of Medicine course alongside current MS1 students. Every other week, I step into the same cadaver lab that I once taught in, only now, as a student. 

Gratitude to Donors

celebration of life monument
Donor families at annual Celebration of Life Gathering, September 18, 2021, downtown
Salt Lake City.

As I reflect on the last decade, I truly cannot imagine my life without the anatomy lab. The opportunities I have had, the lessons I have learned, and the people I have met because of the Body Donor Program have truly been the core of my education. To the beautiful families who have chosen to donate their life's most precious gift for the sake of our education, thank you. An organization named Donor Connect, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is a nonprofit service organization dedicated to donations in the Mountain West.  

I hope that I have been able to communicate even a fraction of how this program has impacted my life and the lives of my peers. I know lessons I have learned as a consequence of these experiences will one day help me develop into the compassionate, empathetic, and knowledgeable doctor I am capable of becoming. 


Ashley Ikegami, BS

Ashley Ikegami is currently a matriculant in the University of Utah Pre-Matriculation Readiness for Ongoing Medical Student Success program. She graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelors of Science in Biology in 2017. She spent much of her undergraduate experience working as an Anatomy Teaching Assistant and serving tables at restaurants. For the last three years, Ashley has worked in pharmaceutical research as she prepares to apply to medical school.

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