HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Graduate dental school students and a top University of Connecticut orthodontics professor took a selfie with two severed heads used for medical research at a training workshop at Yale University last year – an episode Yale officials called “disturbing” and “inexcusable.”
The selfie was taken in June at the Yale School of Medicine during the 2017 DePuy Synthes Future Leaders Workshop, which focused on dental-related facial deformities.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the photo from a person who received it through a private group chat. That person, who demanded anonymity because of potential harm to their career, said the person who took the selfie would not give the AP permission to publish it for fear of being expelled.
The people in the photograph include Dr. Flavio Uribe, an assistant professor and orthodontics program director at UConn Health and a visiting associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. In the photo, Uribe and several graduate students are looking at the camera, while others continue to work. All are wearing surgical masks. The two severed heads are on tables, face up.
Uribe told the AP that he was teaching students how to place screws in the cadaver heads. At one point, he said, someone took a photo.
“Somebody unfortunately took a photo,” Uribe said. “It was so quick. I wasn’t sure of the surroundings or scenery at that point.”
Officials at Yale and UConn Health said the universities have taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Yale officials said they are improving oversight at such training events and making participants agree in writing to ethical standards of conduct.
Christopher Hyers, UConn Health’s chief communications officer, said in a statement that “UConn Health was made aware of the matter at the time it happened and took appropriate internal steps.”
Asked what those steps were, Hyers said: “UConn Health does not comment on personnel matters.”
Uribe said he has never been disciplined by UConn for any reason.
Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy said the School of Medicine took the matter very seriously. He said there is clear signage forbidding photography at each entrance to the laboratory. He also said the symposium was not part of Yale’s anatomy program, and the heads in the selfie were not donated to Yale.
“The photograph taken at a symposium at Yale was disturbing and an inexcusable deviation from anything Yale would expect to occur,” Conroy said in a statement. “Yale is developing a centralized coordinating function to ensure adequate oversight is provided for use of anatomical parts in any training conducted at the school.
“The faculty member who was involved in the training at which the photograph was taken has been informed of Yale’s expectations in this regard,” he said.
It was not clear how the heads were obtained.
Dr. Lawrence Rizzolo, a surgery professor and director of medical studies at the Yale School of Medicine, called the selfie “an egregious violation of Yale policy” in an email, obtained by the AP, responding to a person who made a complaint about the photo.
Medical students and professionals taking inappropriate photos is nothing new. Schools and hospitals across the country now have social media policies about what can and cannot be posted online.
Last year, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital in Bedford, Pennsylvania, was cited by health officials for multiple violations after staff took photos and videos of a patient being treated for a foreign object lodged in their genitals. One doctor was suspended for 28 days and another was suspended for seven days.
In 2010, a resident doctor at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York was asked to remove a Facebook photo showing a former classmate next to a cadaver giving a thumbs up sign. The incident led the medical school to develop a social media policy.