Sandra L. Bertman

Showing 1 - 2 of 2 annotations associated with Bertman, Sandra

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Art with Commentary


One Breath Apart: Facing Dissection is a pictorial and narrative account of gross anatomy class in medical school. The book highlights the educational, moral and metaphysical opportunities anatomy courses afford those who dissect and learn from the cadaver. Educator and thanatologist Sandra Bertman has expanded on her work with medical students previously summarized in her book Facing Death: Images, Insights, and Interventions (see annotation).

Written with the first year medical student in mind, One Breath Apart is a compilation of drawings and writings by students from the University of Massachusetts Medical School between 1989 and 2002 in response to course assignments. The book is dedicated to the professor of the anatomy course, Sandy Marks - of note, the medical humanities module, including assignments and events were integrated into the course. Bertman describes the course and provides a plethora of student work.

Additionally, the book is enhanced by photographs by Meryl Levin, with writings by Cornell-Weill medical students, excerpted from Levin's marvelous study,  Anatomy of Anatomy in Images and Words. Also included is a foreword by Jack Coulehan, who writes of his experience with his cadaver ("We named him ‘Ernest,' so we could impress our parents by telling them how we were working in dead earnest." p. 7) and the lifelong impact of dissection on the student.

Of particular note is the variety of content included in this intriguing volume. Artistry is not a medical school admissions criterion, yet a number of the drawings have design components which are thought-provoking and profound. For example, on page 80 a female doctor adorned with white coat, stethoscope and bag stands beside an upright skeleton. They are holding hands.

Bertman concludes the book with photographs, drawings and text related to the annual spring memorial service for the body donors. The section includes eulogies by students and responses by donor family members. Writes medical student Nancy Keene: "Studying his body provided an opportunity which enhanced my education. But it was the giving of his body, which has remained with me as a lasting memory." (p. 87)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Handbook


Professor Sandra Bertman founded the Medical Humanities Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and holds certificates in grief counseling and death education. This handbook outlines how she uses the visual and literary arts to "improve our professional abilities to deal with death and dying." Her premise is that the arts provide a valuable vehicle for exploring and making bearable the prospect and fact of death.

Bertman illustrates her presentation technique (Chapter 2) of juxtaposing dual images around six central themes, here abbreviated: the chosen death; death and afterlife; existential aloneness; loss of control, unmentionable feelings, grief; the land of the sick vs. the land of the well; the moment of death. The book offers dozens of paintings, sketches, and photographs (reproduced in black and white), as well as many literary excerpts. Classic works are represented (David's painting, The Death of Socrates; Michelangelo's sculpture, "Pieta"; Tolstoy's novel, The Death of Ivan Ilyich) but there are many unusual representations as well--greeting card messages, epitaphs, cartoons.

In addition, some groups with whom she works (for example, medical students studying Gross Anatomy) have submitted their own drawings and commentary. These are shown in Chapter 3, along with written responses to a follow-up Death Attitude Questionnaire. Responses are from junior and senior high school students; college students; medical students; graduate nurses; hospice volunteers.

Chapter 4 gives suggestions for how to use images and texts and for how to approach discussions of loss and grief. The course syllabus for "Dissection, Dying, and Death," taught with Gross Anatomy, is appended, and there is an extensive bibliography.

View full annotation