Journal of Experimental and Clinical Anatomy

: 2015  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 101--104

Attitude of Jos University medical students to their initial encounter with cadavers in the dissecting room

AI Shugaba1, YM Usman1, FJ Shimwen1, CB Uzokwe1, F Shinku1, AM Rabiu2, ZI Hassan3,  
1 Department of Human Anatomy, University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria
2 Department of Human Physiology, University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria
3 Department of Community Medicine, University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
A I Shugaba
Department of Human Anatomy, University of Jos, Jos


Objective: This study aimed to discover the emotional reactions, attitudes and beliefs of undergraduate medical students of University of Jos medical school to 1st time encounter with human cadaver. Materials and Methods: A structured pretested and validated questionnaire was administered to 450 students of 200 to 500 levels all at the same time in May 2012. The age of the students ranged from 21 to 26 years with mean age of 23.1 years. Results: 26.1%, 15.6%, 32.3%, and 15.2% of the 200, 300, 400, and 500 level students, respectively, indicated great anxiety as their reaction to the first experience with cadaver. The fear of infection was the most common cause of worry for the studied population (71.4%, 70%, 49.3%, and 87.3% for the 200, 300, 400, and 500 levels, respectively). A number of students had no symptoms on their first encounter with cadavers (40.5% of 200, 34.4% of 300, 27.7% of 400, and 51.9% of 500 levels) however; dizziness was a common symptom experienced. Conclusion: Overwhelming majority were of the opinion that cadaver dissection should not be substituted with visuals because cadaver dissection gives the students better appreciation of the three-dimensional. Assessment of the attitudes and reactions of medical students could help medical tutors to formulate better strategies to develop academic and clinical competences.

How to cite this article:
Shugaba A I, Usman Y M, Shimwen F J, Uzokwe C B, Shinku F, Rabiu A M, Hassan Z I. Attitude of Jos University medical students to their initial encounter with cadavers in the dissecting room.J Exp Clin Anat 2015;14:101-104

How to cite this URL:
Shugaba A I, Usman Y M, Shimwen F J, Uzokwe C B, Shinku F, Rabiu A M, Hassan Z I. Attitude of Jos University medical students to their initial encounter with cadavers in the dissecting room. J Exp Clin Anat [serial online] 2015 [cited 2020 Jul 11 ];14:101-104
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Active dissection and examination of prosected specimens are among the major methods of learning anatomy, which offers important opportunities for cultivating an attitude of professionalism at an early stage in medical education. Numerous medical schools in the United States and abroad have determined that anatomy taught through cadaver dissection is untenable (Aziz et al., 2002). However, arguments against dissection tend to ignore the emotional growth students experience in the process. Cadaver dissection prepares the students for one of the core dilemmas of patient care, namely the need to be personally engaged yet clinically not interested (Aziz et al., 2002). This dilemma, traditionally encountered with the first incision in the dissection laboratory, will persist throughout professional life, and it must, therefore, be addressed in order to provide humanistic care with scientific objectivity. The necessity and utility of cadaver dissection experiences have been questioned by so many people in the society, with some schools even substituting virtual training (i.e., the use of plastic models or computers) for actual dissection (Aziz et al., 2002).

More recent studies have indicated that anatomy is only moderately or not very stressful and in fact generate considerable excitement and enthusiasm among the large majority of students (Rajkumari et al., 2008; Charlton et al., 1994; Rajkumari and Singh, 2007; McGarvey et al., 2001). Other studies of the anatomy dissecting room experience have reported that although the majority of their students expressed a positive attitude toward the initial encounter with the cadaver, a small percentage of students found it traumatic, 58% of their students suffer symptoms suggestive of posttraumatic stress disorder (Finkstein and Mathers, 1990; Penny 1985; O'Carroll et al., 2002; Evans and Fitzgibbon, 1992; Selvratnam et al., 2001; Horne et al., 1990; Abu-Hijleh et al., 1997). Studies conducted in Nigerian revealed that few (a third) preclinical students identified the dissecting room as a very important stress while majority of them found it exciting (Nnodim 1996; Izunya et al., 2010).

There is, therefore, the need for the experienced by medical students in the dissecting room to be explored thoroughly in many different medical schools across the nation and indeed other parts of the world so that there will be overwhelming evidence for or against the use of cadaver in learning anatomy.

 Materials and Methods

This was a cross-sectional study that was conducted among the medical students of the University of Jos. Because cadaver dissection is a lifelong experience that cannot be easily forgotten, the study population included the 500, 400, 300 and 200 level students. A total of 450 students were recruited for this study. Data were collected using a structured pretested and validated self-administered questionnaire. The basic components of the questionnaire were an introduction of the researchers/research, biodata of the respondents and questions about what they felt during their first encounter with the cadaver in the dissection room. Pretesting and validation of questionnaire was done from a pilot study earlier conducted with an internal consistency of 0.8. Informed consent was sought and obtained from the study population before data were collected. Data were analyzed using SPSS version 17 software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL).


The student-cadaver-patient encounter is more important than any other thing in the medical profession because it gives a better appreciation of the three-dimensional anatomy (Andres and Diana-Zulima, 2011).

Students' amphitheater practice evoked positive feelings in most students [Table 1]: Curiosity (84.7) and anxiety (23.3%), as stated in a Colombian study revealing that majority of the students were curiously waiting for their first experience as reported by 54.8%, 50%, 38.7%, and 41.8% of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th year students, respectively, while just a few 1.6% of year 2, 2.2% of year 3, 0.7% of year 4, and 0% of year 5 students said it was scary/horrible (Andres and Diana-Zulima, 2011).{Table 1}

The most frequent cause of fear [Table 2] in this study was the fear of infection as reported by 71.4%, 70%, 49.3%, and 87.3% of 200, 300, 400, and 500 level students and the smell of the room as stated by 66.7% of year 2 students, 70% year 3, 34.8% year 4, and 86.1% year 5 students. This was comparable to the findings of a Malaysian study which reported fear of infection between 61.4% of year 1 students and 34.6% of year 2 students (Selvratnam et al., 2001).{Table 2}

The most frequent strategy [Table 3] used by our students to overcome fear was by focusing on the task (71.4% of the year 2, 76.7% of year 3, 60% of year 4, and 59.5% of year 5 students) and relaxation by (47.6%, 30%, 36.1%, and 54.4% of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th of year students). The most frequent methods of coping in other studies were rationalization, relaxation, discussion with fellow students, friends and family (Abu-Hijleh et al., 1997; Horne et al., 1990).{Table 3}

Some studies have reported that few students (30%) showed physical symptoms [Table 4] on first exposure to cadavers in the dissecting room (Horne et al., 1990), 46% of students experiencing some level of fear before and during the initial dissecting room practical (Abu-Hijleh et al., 1997) and 50% of 1st year students and 56.6% of 2nd year students showing no symptoms on first contact with cadaver. However, 17.1% of 1st-year students and 21.1% of 2nd-year students suffered prolonged symptoms lasting over a year (Selvratnam et al., 2001).{Table 4}

In this study, no student experienced prolonged symptoms [Table 5] but most of the students stated that they experienced symptoms only on their first visit (25.4% of year 2, 40% of year 3, 34.8% of year 4, and 30.4 of year 5 students). This study also showed that the most common symptoms were dizziness (experienced by 51.6%, 37.8%, 48.4%, and 45.6% respectively for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th year students) followed by loss of appetite as reported by (27%, 33.3%, 42.6%, and 59.55%, respectively for 2, 3, 4, and 5 hundred level students).{Table 5}

Furthermore, most of our students (97.6%, 91.1%, 93.5%, and 98.7%, respectively of 200, 300, 400, and 500 levels) admitted that cadaver dissection enhanced their level of understanding anatomy [Table 6] and this is in tandem with findings of other similar studies (Rajkumari et al., 2008; Johnson 2002; Mutyala and Cahill, 1999; Week et al., 1995).{Table 6}

Expectedly, on the issue of replacing actual cadaver dissection with visual alternative in the nearest future [Table 7], majority of our students across all the levels of training did not agree to cadaver replacement (80.2% of year 2 students, 85.6% of year 3 students, 84.5% of year 4 students, and 87.3% of year 5 students). This finding is consistent with what was obtained in previous studies (Leong 1999; Jones 2001; Parker 2002; Johnson 2002; McLachlan et al., 2004).{Table 7}

Studies have also reported that Cadaver dissection gives students a better appreciation of the three-dimensionality of human anatomy, which is not possible with the plastic models or computers and that removal or attenuation of cadaver dissection is bound to impair the students' ability to apply the scientific method during diagnosis (Aziz et al., 2002; McLachlan et al., 2004; Parker 2002).


This study found that anxiety, fear and stress are being experienced by medical students during their first encounter with a cadaver in the dissecting room. It is, therefore, very important that medical educators bring up new ideas/strategies to reduce such problems in the dissecting room. Further studies, especially in other regions of the country are highly recommended to possibly replicate the findings in this study.


We wish to appreciate the 200–500 level students of the University of Jos medical school for volunteering to respond to our questionnaires sincerely despite the tight schedules of medical school and the Department of Human Anatomy, University of Jos for the moral support we got for this study.[22]

Financial Support and Sponsorship


Conflicts of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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