Baylor students thank ‘silent teachers’ at Donor Honor Ceremony

A longstanding tradition at Baylor College of Medicine is the Donor Honor Ceremony, a night when trainees and faculty thank the “silent teachers” who donate their bodies after death to improve science and knowledge of future medical professionals.

Caroline Kosnik, executive director of Anatomy Education Core and Willed Body Program, said the ceremonies are a tangible demonstration of respect and appreciation for the donors who share their bodies with trainees and faculty at all levels – from undergraduate through continuing professional development.

“When I speak with potential donors, they want to know if their gift is needed and will it be respected,” Kosnik said in an email. “When I explain the donor honor ceremony, they and (later) their families are encouraged to know the Baylor community shows reverence and appreciation through this event.”

The March 23 ceremony was held in McMillian Auditorium, a collective effort of students from the School of Medicine and School of Health Professions. The first in-person donor honor ceremony since 2019, the night was filled with words of gratitude, art and music.

Student representatives included Aaron Pathak, first-year medical student; Ashley M. Hamilton, second-year student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program – Nurse Anesthesia; Kindall Yeung, Physician Assistant Program student; and Bianca Hill, Orthotics and Prosthetics Program student. Kosnik and Dr. Ming Zhang, professor of molecular and cellular biology, both lead the Anatomy Education Core and Willed Body Program.

As a registered nurse working in the intensive care unit, Hamilton said she has seen both traumatic and peaceful end-of-life transitions and added that she takes great care to give dignity to her patients when their time comes.

Working in the anatomy lab with her donor gave Hamilton a new perspective, as well as foundational knowledge she’ll use in her anesthesia courses and skill-based task work.

“Although my donor and I were strangers in life, I felt as though we were not strangers in the donor’s afterlife,” Hamilton said in an email. “This ceremony allowed me to say goodbye to my donor and acknowledge the priceless gift bestowed on me. I cannot ever repay my donor, but his gift of knowledge will live on through me and many others.”

During the year, students in Baylor’s health professions programs may be siloed from each other, Hamilton explained, unless doing practical exams. Having an in-person ceremony was an opportunity to meet students in other programs and respectfully commemorate the lives of their donors.

“As students in our respective rigorous programs, we tend to move from lecture to lecture, exam to exam, without taking a breath,” Hamilton said. “The in-person ceremony was a memorial service for the donors who gifted their bodies to education rather than having a traditional funeral service surrounded by family and friends. I was honored to be a part of giving our donors this ceremony.”

In addition to art, music and reflections, participants wrote thank-you cards to their donors and lit a candle in their memory. Hamilton said it was an honor to work with other class presidents to coordinate the event and use interdisciplinary collaboration skills she has developed in her career.

Pathak called the ability to learn in Baylor’s anatomy lab a unique and surreal experience.

“I’m so glad that we were able to present our thoughts and reflections in-person,” Pathak said in an email. “From student spoken reflections to beautiful art pieces to respectful displays of student musical talent, it gave us the opportunity to take a minute from the constant busyness and reflect on the life-changing experience we’ve had here.”

By Julie Garcia