BackgroundMedical faculties are currently embracing a modernistic approach to anatomical education that integrates diagnostic imaging largely through post-mortem computed tomography scanning of body donors. Post-mortem imaging, however, poses a multitude of challenges. The purpose of this study was to assess the implementation of pre-mortem donor-specific diagnostic imaging on student learning and dissection experience in addition to understanding the potential impact on students’ preparation for clinical practice.MethodsStudents in a fourth-year medicine elective course were divided into groups; group 1 received pre-mortem donor-specific diagnostic imaging, while group 2 received pathology-specific diagnostic imaging, a collection of images relating to the type(s) of pathologies the donors exhibited, though not specific to the donors themselves. Both groups also received a donor-specific case vignette. A convergent, parallel mixed methods design was employed. This included integrating data from group responses to a study participant survey and students’ academic assessment scores analyzed quantitatively through statistical analyses with data from focus group sessions investigating the psychosocial aspects of the student dissection experience and perceptions of the imaging use in the course analyzed qualitatively.ResultsAs compared to students receiving pathology-specific diagnostic imaging, the quantitative results demonstrated that students receiving pre-mortem donor-specific diagnostic imaging more positively supported the relevancy of diagnostic imaging to their understanding of anatomy, valued the integration for future practice, and suggested an earlier integration within their medical curriculum. Qualitatively, two main themes were observed: the influence of diagnostic imaging integration on dissection experience and on professional mindset. Although both student groups received imaging corresponding to their body donor, consideration towards the humanistic nature of the body donor as a patient with a history was limited to student feedback from the donor- specific diagnostic imaging group.ConclusionOverall the integration of pre-mortem donor-specific diagnostic imaging into anatomical dissection provided students with practical skill development, an enhanced dissection experience, and reinforced personal qualities critical for future practice.