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A thematic analysis of students' discussions on death and body donation in international online focus groups

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Wu, Anette 
McWatt, Sean 
Utomo, Rachel 
Talis, Austin 
Xiao, Que Yun 


Historically, Anatomy education is an in-person discipline involving exposure to human body donors that facilitates personal and professional growth through, in part, the initiation of reflection on the topic of death. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic the decreased exposure to cadaveric anatomy for many health professions students may have influenced the depth of their individual reflections on this topic. Accordingly, this study aimed to investigate the effect of an alternate approach – focus group discussions between peers with varying degrees of exposure to cadaveric material – that may offer one strategy to stimulate deep reflection on the topic of death. A programmatic intervention was introduced, wherein students (n = 221) from 13 international universities discussed differences in their anatomy courses during small focus group sessions as part of an online exchange program. An inductive semantic thematic analysis was conducted on responses to an open-ended text-response question on how the activity influenced students’ reflections about death. Resulting themes were organized into categories that described the content and topics of the students’ discussions as they grappled with this sensitive topic. The students reportedly engaged in deep reflection and expressed an increased sense of connectedness with their peers, despite their disparate exposure levels to cadaveric anatomy and being physically distanced. This demonstrates that focus groups with students experiencing different laboratory contexts can be used to help all students reflect on the topic of death, and that interchanges between dissecting and non-dissecting students can initiate thoughts about death and body donation among non-dissecting students.



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Anatomical Sciences Education

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