Medical Students Honor Those Who Have Donated Their Bodies to Medical Education

Friday, September 6, 2019

This August, medical students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson planted a tree in memory of those who have passed away and generously donated their bodies to science.

The annual event, known as the Tree Blessing Ceremony, took place on Wednesday, Aug. 28 in the Dr. Norman Koelling Willed Body Memorial Garden. The garden was created to “honor and esteem those who have supported science, medicine and education through the ultimate contribution of their body.” 

Medical students learn the basics of human anatomy through the UA College of Medicine – Tucson Willed Body Program, which allows individuals to donate their bodies after passing so that students may gain valuable hands-on medical training. 

“The blessing ceremony helps students recognize that willed bodies are a gift,” said Carlos Gonzales, MD, assistant dean of curricular affairs and an associate professor of family and community medicine, who led the ceremony. “We honor the sacrifice of these donors and acknowledge that their gift to the UA is not something to be taken for granted.”

In their first year of medical school, students are paired with the remains of a donor for lessons in clinical human anatomy. The lab provides students the unique opportunity to learn about the structures of the human body and how they function through touch and discovery. The knowledge and skills acquired through these examinations are an essential part of medical education.

The annual Tree Blessing Ceremony includes a traditional American Indian blessing common among many of the tribes in Arizona.

The Willed Body Program was established in 1967 to further the education of future and current health professionals through the gift of body donation. After one to two years of study, all donors are cremated and the cremated remains are scattered in a professional and dignified manner.

Click here to view a complete photo album from the event.

About the UA College of Medicine – Tucson
The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson is shaping the future of medicine through state-of-the-art medical education programs, groundbreaking research and advancements in patient care in Arizona and beyond. Founded in 1967, the college boasts more than 50 years of innovation, ranking among the top medical schools in the nation for research and primary care. Through the university’s partnership with Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country, the college is leading the way in academic medicine. For more information, visit