How I study anatomy (+ some tips for lockdown)

Updated: Feb 27

Anatomy is known to be one of the most difficult parts of Medicine to get your head around (I agree). If you're a student in your pre-clinical years, this blog post will hopefully provide some methods and resources that helped me get a decent grasp of anatomy during medical school. [Disclaimer: This does NOT mean I am good at anatomy. You have to constantly revisit it and apply it to real life... neither of which I have been able to do recently].

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of medical students will not be able to set foot in the dissection room this year so I know it's really tough trying to understand anatomy without being able to experience it in-person.

Please note: At King's, we are not explicitly tested on our anatomy knowledge - it's often incorporated into clinical knowledge questions. I know that other universities do 'spot tests' on pro-sections - a more rigorous anatomy memorisation technique will be needed for these types of tests.

My favourite resources:

Moore's Essential Clinical anatomy textbook

This is my favourite anatomy text book. It divides the body up into key sections - which was really helpful for the way that we approach cadaveric dissection at King's. In our 1st year we dissect the Abdomen and Perineum and in 2nd year - Limbs, Head & Neck. We then have 'open dissection' sessions every Wednesday afternoon that you can attend no matter what year group you are in (this is obviously not an option this year but worth looking out for next year when it's up and running again). Demonstrators help us dissect and learn the anatomical landmarks we need to know. These are often surgical trainees or those hoping to enter one of the training programmes. They can be great sources of information and guidance.

I use this text book to make a few notes, mainly about things like blood vessels and muscle movements. I write notes in a notebook I keep for anatomy - I bought this plain page Skull notebook from Amazon - and on a white board. I then cover up and try and write out the key information again from memory. This text book acts as a reference guide for me.

I can't draw so if I need to visualise something I print it out from Teach Me Anatomy (mentioned below) and annotate in my notebook! This is quite a long and arduous task but during my pre-clinical years, it helped me retain information.

Netter's Anatomy flashcards (I have the 2014 edition)

You can purchase these off of Amazon. These are great for spot testing yourself the night before you go in for a dissection session or an anatomy test. I mainly use them for learning names of bones, muscles and layers. When it comes to blood vessels and nerves, I often need to go into further detail for these and I use my anatomy textbook (mentioned above) and Teach me Anatomy.

Teach Me Anatomy

This is THE BEST anatomy website - they also have different versions focusing on specialties that have different anatomy. E.g. Teach me Surgery, Teach Me OBGYN and Teach Me Paediatrics

These can also be downloaded as apps. They are fantastic for doing short quizzes and have some great images on the site - clearly labelled and easy to visualise. I always read over the short articles and do the quizzes before going into a dissection session.

I have made a free account on each site to get full access to the quizzes available.

Netter's Anatomy Colouring Book

I purchased the Anatomy Colouring Book last year to help me with the things I was struggling with. It has been really helpful for memorising names and locations of muscles, bones, blood vessels and nerves (learning anatomy is like learning a map). I'm not a keen artist, so having the anatomical parts drawn out for you to colour in is really good!

3D4 medical

This is an online platform (and a series of apps) that allows you to visualise the body in 3D from your smartphone or computer. I highly recommend downloading this if you are unable to get into the dissection room this year. You can decide what layers of the body you want to look at and it is so helpful for understanding how all the parts fit together. It is a fascinating platform - you'll quickly find yourself addicted.

Methods (with tweaks due to lockdown)

Get a whiteboard

I bought a mini white board and have NOT regretted it! This helped me so much with visualisation and memorisation. You can draw anatomical parts as badly as you want and rub them out after. This is really good for drawing out branches and systems e.g. nerves and blood vessels and can be used with friends for testing each other.

Go over Teach Me Anatomy and attempt questions

As mentioned above, one of the best ways to remember what you're learning is to be tested on it. Teach Me Anatomy has in-depth articles and short quizzes (suitable for you if you have an anatomy-specific test at your medical school). Passmed has more clinically relevant anatomical questions i.e. those related to rheumatology, orthopaedics or trauma. These are great if you're in your clinical years.

Brush up on some Latin and Greek

I found this good document full of the key Latin and Greek words you are likely to come across during your medical career. Having a small insight into the meaning of a lot of these words can help you remember small things like colour, location, size and shape.

DOC • 269KB

This is also a link to a UCL site that explains lots of medical terms

Do not neglect radiology!

I like to study radiology and anatomy at the same time. When I am on placement, I get quizzed s lot more on imaging than human anatomy and I find that it makes so much more sense and sticks in my head better if I study both at the same time.

So, if I'm studying the lungs, I'll go onto and look at what a NORMAL pair of lungs looks like on a chest X-ray, for example. The site is also great for understanding how each imaging process works and which ones are appropriate for viewing different pathologies. By the way, I've learnt that it is CRUCIAL to recognise what 'normal' looks like on radiological imaging before you start learning about the 'abnormalities'.

Avoid lots of mnemonics and try to focus on clinically relevant anatomy

This is some good advice I received in my first year. Unfortunately, learning mnemonics is not a fool-proof way to understand / memorise anatomy. Instead, try to focus on the anatomy that you will need to know for your future practice as a doctor. This is covered on websites like Teach Me Anatomy and Osmosis. It also may be outlined in your medical school's learning objectives.

Other resources

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