How To Study For Anatomy

Last Updated on January 19, 2023

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How To Study For Anatomy

natomy is an integral part of medical school education and requires a good working knowledge from doctors and anyone else in the medical and healthcare fields. Anatomy is a vast subject area. There is a lot for medical students to learn, and considerable time is spent dissecting cadavers and mastering the anatomy of the human body.

Anatomy is a subject that many medical students enjoy studying, but it can also be exceptionally challenging. If you find anatomy a challenging topic or want to improve your approach to studying it, we’ve compiled some anatomy study tips to help you.

What is anatomy?

Anatomy is a branch of biology that studies the structures of the human body. Anatomy considers the structure and position of organs of the body, such as bones, glands, and muscles. An anatomist is a person who studies anatomy.

Studies of anatomy have traditionally involved the dissection of organisms. However, many schools have replaced this with imaging technology which shows how the inside of a body works. Having an understanding of human anatomy is key to practicing medicine and other areas of health.

What are the branches of anatomy?

Anatomy is divided into several branches of study, including:

  •     Cardiovascular physiology: The functions of blood vessels and the heart
  •     Cell biology: Cellular structure and functions
  •     Developmental anatomy: The complete development of a person from conception to death
  •     Embryology: The first eight weeks of development after the fertilization of a human egg
  •     Endocrinology: Study of hormones and how they control functions of the body
  •     Exercise physiology: Changes in organ and cell functions due to muscular activity
  •     Gross anatomy: Structure of the human body and organs as a whole
  •     Histology: Microscopic structure of cells, organs, and tissues
  •     Imaging anatomy: Body structures seen with CT scans, MRI and X-rays
  •     Immunology: Study of the body’s defenses against disease
  •     Neurophysiology: Functional properties of nerve cells
  •     Pathological anatomy: Structural changes related to disease
  •     Phytotomy: Anatomical study of plants
  •     Regional anatomy: Specific regions of the body such as the chest or head
  •     Renal physiology:  Kidney functions
  •     Respiratory physiology: Functions of the lungs and air passageways
  •     Surface anatomy: Surface markings of the body to understand internal anatomy through sight and touch
  •     Systemic anatomy: Structure of specific systems of the human body such as the respiratory or nervous systems
  •     Zootomy: Anatomical study of animals

Difference between anatomy and physiology

While medical schools often teach them together, physiology is separate from the study of anatomy. Anatomy is the study of the structure of the parts of an organism, such as the human body. Meanwhile, physiology focuses on the way those parts work and function together.

For example, the heart’s anatomy means the heart’s structure, such as its valves, veins, chambers, and arteries. The physiology of the heart means how the heart pumps the blood.

Although anatomy and physiology are both fundamental fields of biology and relate to the body parts of living beings, there are many differences between the two.

Anatomy vs Physiology

AnatomyPhysiology
Study of various structures of the body.Study of various functions of the body, such as urinal and respiration functions.
Studies the dead and living.Only studies the living.
Enables people to understand the various body parts of a living being, whether human or otherwise.Enables people to understand how these body parts work.

Why do you need to study anatomy as a medical student?

So, why would a doctor today need to study anatomy? Studying anatomy is important for any medical student intending to perform physical examinations on patients, carry out invasive procedures, examine radiological imaging, refer a patient to another physician, or explain a procedure to a patient. Knowledge of the human body structure and how the systems interact enables doctors to determine the right care for each patient and their specific symptoms. A good foundation of anatomy gives doctors the building blocks they need to make the right decisions for their patients and provide accurate and quality care.

How to study anatomy?

Anatomy is one of the most content-rich subjects you will study at medical school. There’s a huge range of elements to learn and remember, making it a daunting subject to study if you don’t have a good study plan. But with hard work, time, and effective learning and memorization tips, it’s possible to make anatomy an interesting and enjoyable subject to study. Here is our study guide for human anatomy and physiology.

Create an anatomy glossary

Studying anatomy at medical school is like learning a whole new language. To help you learn and memorize key anatomy terminologies, create an anatomy glossary that you can keep with you. Learning the generalized terms can be really helpful in improving your anatomy knowledge and boosting your confidence.

Repetition is key

Considering the volume of anatomy definitions and intricate terms you need to learn, reread your notes and coursework daily to keep all the material fresh in your mind. But to avoid it getting monotonous, switch up your study styles from simple reciting to creating flashcards, mnemonics, drawing diagrams, or watching video tutorials.

Study early and often

Schedule your study time rather than cramming on the night before. It’s a good idea to allocate 90 to 2 hours for outside study for every hour you spend in the classroom. When you are learning a new and complex subject such as anatomy, you must keep up with all of the course material and get into the habit of regularly reviewing your coursework, ideally daily.

Join or create a study group

Forming a group with other anatomy students that you can work well with can help make your study sessions more effective. Aim to regularly meet with your study group to go over lecture notes and recap what was taught in each session. You can then quiz each other or go over any anatomy concepts you struggled with. A study group can also help you with your studies and keep you accountable.

Test yourself

Regularly testing yourself, especially at the end of a topic, will help you see which areas of your learning need more focus. Use old exam papers or create test questions with your group members to quiz each other to improve your exam performance and see what areas you need to improve.

Make the most of dissection and anatomy tutorials

If your medical school offers cadaver dissection sessions or anatomy tutorials, it can be enormously beneficial if you prepare for them beforehand. Learn the names of structures within the section of the body you will learn about in the session. Preparing for each session will help you to get the most out of your anatomy classes and allow you to test your understanding and ask any questions you have.

Learn in sections

It’s extremely difficult to learn the whole anatomy of the body in one go. Therefore, break the human body down into sections and link the sections together later. This will help you learn the specific sections in detail and avoid anatomy becoming overwhelming.

It’s common to know about the function of an organ before learning about anatomy. To help your learning, try linking the structures in the body to their function. Linking concepts in this way can help you retain new information.

Take detailed notes

When taking notes during anatomy class, only record the important points or shortened sentences. Immediately after the session, create questions based on the lecture materials to help improve your information retention and provide you with good questions for upcoming quizzes and exams.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in medicine, apply to our MD program today. You can also get in touch with us if you have any questions or if you’d like to learn more about how you can apply to our study program.

how to study for anatomy practical

Figuring out how to study for an anatomy practical is a bit of minefield. Unlike ‘normal’ anatomy that allows you to sit at home studying from apps, flashcards or books, practical anatomy puts you in the lab.

It also requires you to get comfortable with the technical side of the subject!

So How To Study Anatomy Practical The Right Way?

  • Accept the challenge
  • Use a good dissection guide
  • Ask your professor for tips
  • Know what questions to expect
  • Hold organs in your hands
  • Focus on orientation over identification
  • Learn tissue types and key landmarks
  • Ask active questions while dissecting/observing
  • Use mnemonics
  • Don’t rely on colleagues
  • Be consistent with resources

For a newcomer that might seem a little simplistic. But don’t worry we’ll go into it more in this article!

As someone who found anatomy practical a difficult subject, I wish I’d have prepped myself with this info beforehand.

What Is Anatomy Practical?

Anatomy practicals generally refer to the part of an anatomy exam that involves physical lab work.

This is in direct contrast to the written component of an anatomy exam; a section where you’ll usually have to answer questions or write an essay.

Tips On How To Study For An Anatomy Practical

Now for the tips.

These are intended as key things to keep in mind as you start and continue anatomy lab work. Things that will make preparing for an exam all the more easier.

They don’t just apply to med students either!

Using these things helped me score well on my own University’s internal exams.

#1: Accept The Challenge

The first thing you’re going to need to do when approaching anatomy lab, whether you have an upcoming exam or not, is recognise; it’s seriously tough.

As anatomy is such a huge topic with so many levels of detail, there’s a lot of learning ahead of you. That’s also on top of learning to dissect, adjust a microscope and talk your way around a radiograph (x-ray) too.

So accept that it’s completely normal to struggle, feel overwhelmed and even fail. Just don’t let that deter your ambition to master the subject.

Seriously though, learning to identify and label structures on a cadaver is a completely different story to seeing them in a book. Oftentimes, to me at least, cadavers just look like jumbled pieces of spaghetti (maybe it was just my med school’s). So figuring them out is no easy thing!

Use The Professor

Nobody will know what’s on your anatomy practical exam better than your professor or supervisor. Trust their knowledge. Also look out and listen for any time they mention any structure or part of anatomy that’s likely be tested.

As I already mentioned, all anatomy courses differ in the way they test students. Using the experience of your teachers, and actually asking them for their own recommendations (not just mine!), is a sensible way to figure out what your course expects of you. They’ll also maybe be able to discuss with you what was on previous exams or even run mock-style tests with you.

Usually you only have to ask!

Know What To Expect

Following on from that last tip is knowing what to expect. This means scanning course materials, syllabus points and exam guides to know exactly how you’ll be tested. I remember my own anatomy lab exam had something like 250 plus syllabus points on a five-page document!

Another good idea is to ask students in older years (if available) what anatomy lab was like for them. Maybe they can even accompany you to the dissection hall one time, or walk you through radiographs or micro slides. I did exactly this and the advice I got, specifically when it came to individual examiners and their favorite structures to test, was absolutely gold.

Hold And Position Organs

Now for some more specific lab-based tips.

The first one involves physically holding organs to observe how they look from all angles. You’ll notice a heart, for example, looks very different in the superior anterior view than it does from a posterior inferior! Since you don’t know how or what view of them you’ll get on the final exam, it pays to go over each of the possibilities.

The same goes for positioning them on a display table or in a formaldehyde container. Get a good look at everything and notice the more obvious features that can help you tell them apart.

Orientation Vs Identification

One hack to get better at anatomy practical is to figure out where you are on a cadaver by orientation rather than identification. This involves getting a broad overview of what part of the body you’re in (thorax, abdomen, limb etc) and then doubling down from there. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with these cavities and parts beforehand.

Another tip here is to work on things like your muscle origins and attachment points. That way, if something is dissected and arranged unnaturally, you can simply trace it back with your hand to figure out start or end points. Obvious the same goes for vessels and nerves too.

Don’t be afraid to really touch, feel and follow what you see. Doing so can really help.

Tissue Types And Landmarks

A good tip for improving on histology is to look at things via tissue types. This involves looking for critical microscopic features that help you determine what it is you’re looking at that’s magnified. Knowing what staining techniques are used for what (i.e. Sudan stain for lipids) can also help you work out what organ system a sample is from too.

Landmarks, on the other hand, can help in cadaver-based study. Learning the major anatomical points (as you would by covering basic tutorials) like the clavicle, sternum, epicondyles etc first, can make further exploration and study easier. Especially when communicating with colleagues and professors without touching or pointing to samples too.

Mnemonics

Learning useful anatomy-based mnemonics are a great way to supercharge your recall of structures, orders and positions. You can make your own if you feel more comfortable. Or use the thousands of others out there on the web made by other dedicated students or teachers.

The reasons mnemonics work great is that they help with visualising anatomy away from cadavers or images themselves. They can also be applied to each section of an anatomy lab.

Mnemonics also work better the funnier they are too.

Don’t Rely On Colleagues

This could be controversial but personally I wouldn’t recommend studying for anatomy labs alone with colleagues without experienced supervision. The reason being? Anatomy is just too complicated and confusing for the inexperienced to figure out on there own.

Sure there are ways around this; I already mentioned the use of dissectors and websites for guides etc. But there’s no real substitute for a proper teacher. Someone who can show you what a real vein, artery and nerve feels like. And can also explain why.

Hint: They’re not colored blue, red and yellow in real life like they are in most anatomy atlases!

Be Consistent With Resources

The final tip I’ve got for doing well in anatomy lab is to choose one resource and stick with it. Too many times I saw colleagues of mine constantly switching books, atlases and apps etc whenever they felt something wasn’t quite working. This is a massive time waste!

It also involves you going back to scratch and having to get used to each resources’ approach to teaching and explaining.

My recommendation here is to figure out ahead of time the best resource for you. That might mean browsing several books or sites in the days leading up to class or an exam block and staying with them.

You can trust that almost all resources will have the information you need. The only difference usually is the way they present it.

Summary

Anatomy lab exams are tough. The environment is sterile, the professors are often unforgiving and the cadavers are well, motionless. Hopefully the pointers above can help guide you a little better.

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