Saturday, October 24, 2009

How To Study First Year Medical School Anatomy

Anatomy is a fundamental part of any medical student's education, and usually it starts early on in the first year. The education is usually a mix of didactic lectures as well as time spent in an anatomy lab, dissecting cadavers. Some have suggested switching to a method of instruction utilizing technology for prosections, avoiding the need for cadavers, but most medical schools still have a formal anatomy lab. Perhaps one day, most anatomy courses will be taught online at programs like Indiana Wesleyan College with a hybrid classroom component that only involves the anatomy lab, but until then... you gotta study!

How does one make the most of their time studying in anatomy lab? Studying the material is just like
studying for any subject in medical school. However, the lab is a little different. It's hand-on, it's visual, and heh, it smells. Some may also be concerned about finding it macabre and morbid, but usually you get over your natural aversion rather quickly as you focus on learning the material instead of your surroundings. Here are some tips for making the most of your time in anatomy lab:
  • Repetition - Whatever you learn, repeat. A lot. On different cadavers, different angles, different lighting even. You need to have a fundamental understanding of the visuospatial relationships between structures as well as the range of normal variation in them. Otherwise, on exams, you will simply see a mass of flesh and get confused.
  • Know the ideal - Use Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy to learn the ideal relationships beforehand. Otherwise, you can repeat all you want, but each time you'll just see 'mass of flesh.'
  • Learn tissue features - Know the characteristics that differentiate nerves, arteries, veins, and muscles, both by look and feel. Sometimes, these structures run together as in the brachial plexus, and can be difficult to differentiate.
  • Study in a group - Having someone quiz you and prod the lacunae in your knowledge can help you realize your weak spots and strengthen them. Perhaps gastric anatomy always confuses you; maybe its neuroanatomy structures. Either way, a study buddy can help you see things in a new light and learn the material in a way that sticks.
  • Study prosections - if your anatomy lab has idealized dissections, also known as prosections, study those well. It wouldn't be too surprising to see some of these show up on your anatomy practical exam.
Study hard, and anatomy will become the foundation for the rest of your medical learning.

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Updated 2015-12-20


  1. Great post.. Thanks for sharing your views through the article...........Looking for Phlebotomy technician training i would like to suggest to visit this site

  2. It was thanks to the Netter's Anatomy Flashcards that I made it through the first 2 years of anatomy at my university. Interesting blog.



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