In 2018 the University of Dundee celebrated the 130-year anniversary of the Cox Chair of Anatomy. I recently attended the launch of a book written to commemorate this significant milestone.

Entitled “To Bodies Gone”, the book by Edward Small (creative writing teacher at the university and a good friend of mine) charts the ups and downs of the anatomy department in Dundee. There was a time when it seemed that anatomy might disappear as a subject in its own right. But the reorganization that pushed Life Sciences to prominence in Dundee gave anatomy a lifeline. And that was compounded by the arrival of Sue Black.

Sue came with a background in forensic human identification. She also brought boundless energy and a huge talent for problem solving and team building. And so she took the department in a new direction. Today it is called CAHID – the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. CAHID has established an enviable international reputation for research and teaching.

One of the innovations that Professor Black championed was the use of a new technique called Thiel embalming. The donation of bodies by selfless individuals has been the bedrock of teaching anatomy throughout the 130 years of the subject at Dundee. And CAHID continues to believe in the vital role of these “silent teachers”. There has been no attempt to replace actual dissection with more “screen-based” instruction.

But the Thiel process results in far greater flexibility of the embalmed body than older techniques could provide. In turn, that improves the experience for students. And significantly, it also leads to new opportunities for research.

I have a special interest in this because my father is one of those “silent teachers”. Two years after his death, he is still helping medical teaching and medical research. We are all proud of that legacy.

For more information about body donation, contact the University of Dundee.

The Silent Teachers
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