In Your Words  |   June 2018
Author Notes
  • Financial Disclosures: None reported. 
  • Support: None reported. 
  •  *Address correspondence to Kathleen Ackert, OMS III, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, 4170 City Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19131-1610.Email:
Article Information
Cardiovascular Disorders / Gastroenterology / Neuromusculoskeletal Disorders / Pediatrics / Being a DO / In Your Words
In Your Words   |   June 2018
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, June 2018, Vol. 118, 421. doi:
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, June 2018, Vol. 118, 421. doi:
I learned an incredible number of new words during my first year of medical school. Flexor carpi ulnaris. Mediastinum. Retropharyngeal space. But, of all the new words I learned, my favorite was anastomosis. It comes from the Greek language and refers to a union or interconnection between things that would normally not connect. Anastomosis is usually applied to blood vessels, rivers, and branches; however, my classmates and I underwent our own form of anastomosis in the gross anatomy laboratory. 
I cannot deny that the anatomy laboratory was an emotionally challenging experience. I spent more time in close proximity to my cadaver than I had with any other person in my adult life. I spent hours with him every week over the course of the semester, learning what he was like when he was alive by examining him. Week by week, I wove together the story of his life. I didn't know his name, but I called him “The Professor” because he was simultaneously my first patient and my teacher. Everybody has a story to tell, and I could not wait to learn his. 
I created an unspoken dialogue with The Professor. It was almost as if I had a friendly grandparent sitting with me and helping me study. I drew parallels between The Professor and my own life almost every day. My classmates and I discovered that he had his aortic valve replaced, just like my grandmother. Midway through the semester, I discovered he was the same age when he died as my grandfather was at the time. It looked as though he spent the last few years of his life in a wheelchair, and I found myself imagining small children sitting on his lap and making him smile. We were told that he worked as a teacher, and I wondered if he donated his body because he loved to teach. As I tucked him in at the end of the laboratory session each day, making sure the corners on his bedsheet were folded neatly, I thought about how all of these details spoke to his life and personhood. 
My life and The Professor's ran parallel. We never met or crossed paths; however, our lives became interconnected through the new anastomosis that was created during my first semester of medical school. Although he did not know me, he taught me how to balance closeness and detachment. He taught me that all patients need to have their stories heard, and, most importantly, he selflessly bestowed a gift unto me that has laid the foundation for my ability to treat patients. 
My classmates and I have moved on to our clinical rotations, but I often think of The Professor and the story of the human body that he seamlessly wove together for me. I know that my newfound knowledge will assist me throughout my career, and, for that, I have The Professor and all of the other wonderful people I got to work with in my anatomy laboratory to credit for my success. I mourn that I will never have the chance to speak with him, but I know exactly what I would say: “Thank you for taking part in my journey of becoming a physician.”