University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine medical students honor anatomical donors for their gift of teaching and discovery

Virtual memorial service held for loved ones of donors

A photo of Lauren Bony, Class of 2023, reading a poem called 'Gratitude, during the virtual Anatomical Donation Program memorial service.

Lauren Bony, Class of 2023, reads a poem called 'Gratitude,' originally written by Giselle Zagari, M.D., '06, during the virtual Anatomical Donation Program memorial service. UNR Med photo by Brin Reynolds. 

Death can advance life. Anatomical donors - those who donate their bodies to medical education and research after passing away, teach medical students about far more than gross anatomy. Anatomical donors essentially become medical students' first patient by posthumously teaching them how to care, work as a team and develop a sense of curiosity and scientific discovery. Anatomical donors also teach medical students how to navigate emotions they'll face when delivering bad news and helping patients through difficult treatments, in order to make them well again.

University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) first year medical students have the unique opportunity to take anatomy classes with an additional 40-50 people in their lab. These individuals have donated their bodies for the purpose of cadaver dissection - human body teaching tools in three-dimensional physical reality, who are an essential part of medical education. As students advance onto years two, three and four of medical school and learn more about kidneys, lungs and hearts, it is the time spent learning through the dissection of their cadavers that provides their baseline medical education training and how to care for their future patients.   

Traditionally in June, UNR Med first year medical students honor those who gift their bodies to UNR Med's anatomical donation program for medical research and education. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions, UNR Med students this year were unable to host relatives, loved ones and friends of deceased donors at Walton's Sierra Chapel in Reno.

This year, to express their gratitude and pay respects for body donations of the 2019-2020 academic year's donors, UNR Med medical students hosted the annual memorial service virtually, in compliance with the latest State of Nevada Health Response COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force recommendations. The virtual service is available for on-demand viewing on UNR Med's YouTube channel.

Anatomical donations to UNR Med enhance the medical education of future physicians on the complexity of the human anatomy and make it possible for medical researchers and educators to advance medical science, seek cures and improve treatments for diseases such as breast cancer, muscular dystrophy, neurological disorders and more.

The gift of body donation can be a way to make an impactful difference in the lives of others. "People choose to become anatomical donors for a variety of reasons," said Gillian Moritz, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of physiology and cell biology. "The most frequent reason I hear is how important it is to them that their remains benefit medical education and research. They express pleasure in knowing their donation may help a future doctor or researcher find a cure for diseases. Donors also appreciate that their advanced planning eliminates confusion at end of life and that their donation will make a lasting difference."

The anatomical donation program accepts donations from individuals across northern Nevada for anatomical research conducted at UNR Med. The program has been in operation since 1987. "If my body can teach students or ultimately even save someone, of course that's what I want - to help in some way, to do some good," said Margie Cooley, 80, a Reno local who decided to donate her remains for the good of medical students at UNR Med. The anatomical donation process of gifting one's body to medical science is at no cost and offers free cremation services. The physicians at UNR Med understand the importance behind the decision and assure that both doctors and students will ensure the dignity and respect of donors and their families.

For further information on body donations, please contact UNR Med by calling (775) 784-4569 or emailing

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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday December 15, 2020 @ 6:00 AM