Student-Inspired Commemorative Garden

Human anatomy is the first class for Johns Hopkins medical students. For many, these seven weeks represent the first opportunity in their educational journey to work up close and personal with a cadaver, dissecting and exploring organs and other body parts.

Typically, at the end of every class, students hold a memorial service to commemorate the contributions of the anatomical donors. But thanks to a group of students’ desire to more perma­nently recognize and honor those who help them receive real-life experiences, a more special program was held this year.

A school of medicine commemorative garden, built in the grassy area next to the Anne and Mike Armstrong Medi­cal Education Building, was dedicated at a ceremony on May 31. The garden celebrates the contributions of those whose bodies were donated to science, as well as the living patients who volunteer to allow medical students to perform mock interviews and medical exams, a learning technique that is part of their Clinical Foundations of Medicine class.

Referring to the cadavers as “un­forgettable teachers whom we knew so well but not at all,” student Mya Koretzy told the audience, “We’ve seen what they show to the world—tattoos, painted nails, scar tissues and smile lines. We’ve also seen what they’ve kept hidden—stints in the coronary arteries, pacemaker wires, transplanted kidneys. And we know them with a specialized knowledge, in ways they did not know themselves.”

It took just a year from conception to completion, says student Marina Hori­ates. The students convened a meeting with leadership in spring 2016 to discuss their ideas for a commemorative garden. “We expected them to tell us to grab our shovels and start digging, but they were delighted and overwhelmingly supportive and said, ‘Dream bigger’ and ‘Let’s do this.’”

Medical student Anna Goddu said it was fitting that symbols of new life are weaved into every aspect of the space. A bird bath signifies the natural world, wind chimes ring with calming sounds to cultivate mindfulness and a 12-foot wrought iron trellis with a flowering clematis vine at the base will grow to symbolize the medical students developing into their roles as clinicians and healers. At the heart of the space is a labyrinth that invites visitors into a meditative walking experience, sur­rounded by two benches with enough seats to accommodate an anatomy lab group, Goddu says.

Ruth Cronheim, a retired CIA officer, shared her experience about being a vol­unteer outpatient who has let hundreds of medical students ask about her medi­cal history, check her vital signs and discuss her aches and pains. “Each year, this team graduates wonderfully, ethni­cally diverse medical students, destined to become the world’s best doctors,” she says. “I have watched this happen. I have felt it happen.”

“There are lots of headlines in the media and medical education litera­ture that report compassion in medi­cal students is dead, that humanism is dead. Those are in newspapers in my basement from when I was a medical student,” says Roy Ziegelstein, vice dean for education and a speaker at the event. “It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now, and these students have even more compassion than the last group.”