Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 607–612 | Cite as

The Donor Letter Project: Learning Professionalism and Fostering Empathy in an Anatomy Curriculum

  • Abigail Kaye
  • Madison Miranda
  • Therese JonesEmail author


While cadaver dissection remains an unmatched learning tool for structural anatomy, recent shifts in medical culture and pedagogy indicate that developing humanistic practices and fostering empathic responses are crucial components of early medical education. The Donor Letter Project (DLP) was designed to accompany a traditional dissection curriculum, and the pilot, described here, tested its quality and efficacy. In 2017, family members of recently deceased donors to the Colorado State Anatomical Board were invited to submit letters about their loved ones, and forty-seven first-year medical students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine volunteered to read the letters after their human anatomy course. The students then completed a survey about their experience. Because student and donor family responses to the DLP were overwhelmingly positive, the DLP will be repeated with incoming medical school classes, and an addendum to the State Anatomical Board donation application will invite donors to submit letters along with their enrollment materials that may be read by students at the time of donation.


Medical education Anatomical dissection Humanism Empathy Donor memorials 



The authors wish to thank Dr. Danielle Royer, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Block Director for the Human Body Block at the University of Colorado School of Medicine for assistance with manuscript editing, Heidi Mallon, BSc, MEd for assistance with protocol development and IRB submission, Kathryn Serr at the State Anatomical Board for coordinating donor family relations, and Luke Patten at the Center of Innovative Design and Analysis for assistance with statistical analysis.



Compliance with ethical standards

Other disclosures


Ethical approval

Ethical approval has been granted by the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board under protocol COMIRB 17-1874.



Previous presentations



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Colorado School of MedicineAuroraUSA
  2. 2.Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities - Mailstop B137AuroraUSA

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