Accounts following students through medical school appear regularly, but this one limits itself to a single course: first-year anatomy. It turns out to be a good idea.
Giegerich takes a journalist’s approach, emphasizing the human interest of his story. Choosing one cadaver, he researches its life and writes the biography of the man from birth through education, marriage, career, illness, and death. He tells the life story of the mortician at the New Jersey medical school who prepares the body for dissection, of the instructors who teach, and of a researcher who studies how students deal with the stress of anatomy class. Finally, the author focuses on four medical students, who make an appealing collection of aspiring doctors, and adds their life stories to that of the man they dissect. To meet and cut into a dead human marks the baptism by fire for every medical student. The author describes the reaction of each of the four, then follows them for three-and-a-half months as they reduce the cadaver to shreds. We see them struggle, then succeed in absorbing a massive amount of information and grow increasingly confident in their ability to make it through four years. Readers will be pleased to learn that the experience does not harden the students, but increases their respect for the human body and their commitment to their profession. The narrative rings true despite the usual tendency of lay writers to emphasize the bad smells and gruesome sights of anatomy lab, as well as the often-horrified reactions, internal struggles, and philosophizing of the students. In reality, such introspection takes up little of a medical student’s time.
A fine addition to the genre: Giegerich has worked hard researching the subject, and he writes without cynicism.