• By Matthew Brenden

“The First Patient” documentary explores Mayo Clinic School of Medicine students’ journey through gross anatomy

October 15, 2018

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Often considered the most difficult class of a medical students’ education, gross anatomy – the dissection of the human body – was mostly exclusive to the medical community for centuries. Aptly described by many in the medical field as a “rite of passage,” the journey of a medical student’s first foray into becoming a physician rarely has been captured on camera. “The First Patient,” a documentary that will be premiering across the U.S. starting Oct. 20, goes behind the scenes to give an inside look at this formative life-changing course.

medical students in human anatomy lab

Image courtesy of the Duncan Group

Filmed by The Duncan Entertainment Group during seven weeks in the anatomy lab at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, the documentary follows first-year medical students as they explore and analyze human anatomy. The documentary follows students as they work together to overcome the academic, emotional and spiritual challenges throughout their time in the toughest class in medical school – and transition from student to doctor.

“Acquiring a strong understanding of the human body sets the groundwork for the rest of a medical student’s education – that rite of passage toward becoming a knowledgeable physician,” says Mayo Clinic School of Medicine Dean, Fredric Meyer, M.D. “However, we would fall short if we did not share the cognitive, emotional, and professional metamorphosis that also evolves as students progress through this course. I believe that awakening is what this documentary so vividly captures.”

Those who have completed gross anatomy understand that it is an experience that transforms a student to doctor as they experience their first patient.

“My first patient taught me what it means to be a respectful learner, but also the capacity and ability I have to be a respectful teacher,” says Amanda Porter, a Mayo Clinic School of Medicine student featured in “The First Patient.” “She [the donor] quite literally opened her life to me so that I might understand, be able to process, be able to think in the moment, undistracted by my own feelings and outpouring of emotion.”

“Now 30 years later as I reflect on my time as a physician, I realize that my experience in the anatomy lab prepared my mind but also my heart for the journey ahead in medicine,” say Alexandra Wolanskyj M.D., Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. “My profound sense of gratitude to this unknown yet fully known patient has perpetuated throughout my career… I am honored and humbled to have been so intimately entrusted to “care” for her just as I am with all of my patients who put their faith and their confidence in me every day.”

The documentary provides unique insights to how students from all walks of life come to terms with medicine, death, and what it means to live and to give.

“When we began the filmmaking process, we knew we’d discover what it means to be a doctor,” says Chip Duncan, the documentary’s writer and director. “What we didn’t know is that this diverse, thoughtful group of students at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine would help us understand what it means to be human.”

A “world premiere screening” will take place at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Saturday Oct. 20, 2018. Premiere dates for “The First Patient” are set for Oct. 26 in NYC at The Cinema Village in Manhattan, and Nov. 9 in Santa Monica, CA at The Monica Theater.


About The Duncan Entertainment Group
Now in its 33rd year as a producer of long-form film and television, The Duncan Entertainment Group is an independent media company with a background in broadcast journalism, conservation, history, adventure and social issue programming.

About Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
Mayo Clinic School of Medicine is nationally ranked No. 6 top medical school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Originally established in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1972, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine now includes a four-year campus in Scottsdale, Arizona that opened in 2017, and a third- and fourth-year program in Jacksonville, Florida. The expansion to a national footprint gives the school the ability to deliver medical education and highly diverse clinical experiences to students at No. 1-ranked hospitals across all Mayo campuses.

About Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, comprehensive care to everyone who needs healing. Learn more about Mayo ClinicVisit the Mayo Clinic News Network.

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