PA grad students honor cadavers in ceremony of gratitude

Thursday, students from the physician assistant (PA) program at Seton Hill University (SHU) gathered in St. Joseph Hall for a ceremony of gratitude. The ceremony was held to give thanks to the three donor bodies that were used over the course of two semesters in the PA program.

Graduate students from the PA program along with their professors gather for a group photo after the Ceremony of Gratitude. Photo courtesy of C.Arida/Setonian.

Graduate students from the PA program along with their professors gather for a group photo after the Ceremony of Gratitude. They are centered around the three candles and vases filled with roses that honor each of the three donor bodies. Photo courtesy of C.Arida/Setonian.

“This event is meant to be a way for the PA graduate students who participated in the two human dissection courses to say ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ to the three body donors,” said Bobbie Leeper, assistant professor of biology at SHU.

During the ceremony, three candles were lit in order to honor each of the three bodies.
Students were also each given a rose to be placed in one of three vases, during a “giving of the rose ceremony.”

“I think we gained so much, it was so different to actually get to see it in real life. I think they taught us something we could have never learned a different way,” said Erica Schweinsberg, one of the PA graduate students in attendance. “This ceremony is to honor their gift to us and thank them for giving themselves for our knowledge.”

Leeper was inspired for the ceremony by the PA program at West Virginia University (WVU). The PA program at SHU receives the cadavers from WVU and each year WVU puts together its own remembrance ceremony.

“There are no words to describe something like this,” said a parent of one of the PA students during the ceremony. “It’s a wonderful way to pay tribute to the donors.”

Prior to the ceremony, Leeper conducted a “reflection lab” for her students to discuss their experiences with the cadavers. Leeper also asked her students to reflect on becoming body donors themselves.

“I think it was a way to get us to reflect on how their gift to us was so beneficial,” said Sarah Rhoades, a PA graduate student handing out programs prior to the ceremony.

Graduate students from the art therapy program at SHU also participated in the reflection lab. Artwork that the students created in the lab was displayed during the ceremony.

“The purpose of the art therapy students collaborating began as a learning experience and ended up being a gift for us,” said Dana Elmendorf, acting program director of art therapy at SHU. “We were learning about communicating in a way that creates a welcoming environment, helping others understand what to expect when they use art materials for self-expression, understanding their concerns about using a visual language, how to treat artwork that gets created respectfully, etc.”

Graduate students from both the PA and art therapy program came together to create visual representations. Photo courtesy of C.Arida/Setonian.

Graduate students from both the PA and art therapy program came together to create visual representations. Photo courtesy of C.Arida/Setonian.

“What we hoped to get was some real life experience, what we got was an opportunity to learn ourselves,” said Elmendorf. “I have heard feedback from the PA students that the workshop was a great experience for them as well. It gave them a chance to relax, to sort through their feelings of working with cadavers and also to see the creative spark in their fellow students.”

The students started out the workshop by creating various forms of artwork, then they moved into a free write session. “We could write anything that was sentimental to us regarding the donors,” said Megan Shugarts, PA graduate student.

After the free write session, students pulled a favorite word or phrase, which were combined to create a poem. PA graduate student Jacob Crawford read the poem during the ceremony.

Other students who worked with the donors stood to give their thanks in various forms of songs, poems, psalms and other works of writing.

“The lessons they taught the students go beyond human anatomy, they instilled values in the students that will make them better physician assistants,” said Leeper during her “teacher’s perspective” speech. “This is the first of a hopefully annual event for the PA students to hold.”

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