A look at Elon’s ‘Anatomical Gift Program’

ELON, N.C. -- The phrase you hear from Janet Cope, as she describes the big idea she had for Elon a few years ago, takes you aback at first.

“Elon University is amazing place to be a teacher -- living or dead,” Cope said.

Yes, she said, “or dead.”

Elon is one of the few universities not attached to a medical school to have what they refer to as an “Anatomical Gift Program.”

That’s just what it sounds like – people who are willing to give their bodies to the university when they die so that physical therapy and physician’s assistant students can learn from them.

“There is no match for the students having the experience with the human donor,” Cope said. “To take what's in the books, on the pages and go searching in a physical person is a remarkable journey for every single student.”

And Elon makes sure the students, like Chloe Giordano, understand what those donors have done.

“You always have to remember that this person was alive, at some point,” said Giordano, a student from White Plains, New York, who was encouraged to come to Elon, in part, because of what she could learn through what the school calls its “silent teachers.”

Dianne Person was recruited to run the program and she insists on the students having part of the curriculum cover the sacredness of the bodies with which they work.

“The reverence they have for our donors, how grateful they are, I think that's just transforming, in itself,” Person said.

“When you die and you donate yourself, you're giving up all control,” Cope said. “So you have to trust that the people that are taking care of you and teaching with you and learning from you are going to be respectful and have regard.”