By Wendy Sarubbi | October 3, 2011 10:46 am

Shirley Scott has spent the last 30 years teaching people how to accept, grieve and cope with death and dying. Now, thanks to a generous donation to the UCF College of Medicine, Ms. Scott, a former hospice nurse, is providing her valuable lessons to every first-year medical student.

Ms. Scott recently donated 120 copies of the book “One Breath Apart,” by Dr. Sandra L. Bertman, a collection of poems, drawings and essays from medical students at the University of Massachusetts. The book chronicles the students’ feelings about their first Anatomy Lab dissections and how they coped with the reality of death, dying and their first patients, the cadavers.

“As they entered their first human dissection experience, I wanted the UCF medical students to understand that a lot of others who came before them shared the feelings they were experiencing,” Ms. Scott said.

An active College of Medicine supporter, Ms. Scott is a member of the Dean’s Aesculapian Society and talks to students about death and dying. She has been a speaker at the young medical school’s first two “send-off” ceremonies, where students say thank you and goodbye to their first patients, often called “silent teachers.”

Developing a personal philosophy about death and dying is an ongoing process for everyone that starts in childhood, perhaps with the death of a family pet, Ms. Scott said. That process continues throughout a person’s life depending on individual experience. The development process is heightened for doctors, she said, because they must make sense of death and dying in everything they do.

Anatomy Lab invokes a variety of unique feelings in medical students. Some have never seen a dead body before. All are nervous about how they’ll react. Students who have lost beloved family members like grandparents often relive their grief. Those with terminally ill family members see the future in stark reality. All must come to terms with the fact that, “death is not optional,” Ms. Scott said.

Her gift was made so that when the College of Medicine is at full enrollment, each of its new 120 first-year students will be able to check out the book from the Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library, where the works will be housed.

“Coming to terms with death and dying is a long process for everyone, but especially for doctors who will all face patients who die suddenly or aren’t going to live despite the doctor’s best efforts,” Ms. Scott said. “I hope this book helps in that learning process because it includes real students talking about real feelings.”

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