How to Study Anatomy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Anatomy is one of the more difficult subjects during the pre-clinical years of medical school. It involves endless rote memorization and tongue-tying Latin words. Anatomy is often the first-time medical students realize that there is often a big difference between the classic, textbook description and what is seen in reality. During normal times, anatomy is tough to master prior to a lab practical. During the COVID-19 pandemic it will be even more difficult. Medical schools are limiting the number of students in the lab at one time. Social distancing protocols make it difficult for anatomists to get in close and teach students real time with a cadaver at hand. So how do you maximize your learning and proficiency to ace your anatomy practical with limited time in the lab? Here I will discuss my favorite anatomy study resources.

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Anatomy Lab

My number one suggestion for success in anatomy is to maximize your hands-on time in the anatomy lab. Obviously, this will be tough with COVID-19 changes, but do your best to find extra time, even if after hours, to find time for hands-on dissection. Practical tests will most likely involve identifying structures on an actual cadaver. Naturally, the best way to practice is to dissect, self-quiz, and identify structures on a real cadaver. Illustrations of anatomy just aren’t the same. It’s hard to learn how to distinguish the subtle differences in fascial layers, adjacent muscle bellies, or artery versus vein by looking at a drawing. The sensory stimulus of touch adds in another neural pathway for your brain to register newly learned material. Most importantly, the anatomists and TA’s are available for one-on-one teaching and relaying anatomy wisdom. When you can’t be physically present in the lab, tune in for any live-streamed dissections, practical sessions, office hours, and whatever innovative new resources your school is implementing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rohen’s Atlas

Rohen’s Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas was my favorite anatomy resource outside of the actual anatomy lab. It is a textbook slam packed with incredibly detailed dissection photographs of real cadavers. There are full-page pictures of every possible angle of every possible dissection of every part of the body. Not only are the pictures phenomenal, but the book is set up to allow you to quiz yourself. Each structure is neatly labeled with a number. The corresponding structure names are listed in the margin, making it easy to cover with a slip of paper for self-quizzing. The numerous angles on real cadavers, rather than idealized illustrations, make it as close to a hands-on viewing as you’ll get.

Essential Anatomy 5 App

Essential Anatomy 5 is a 3D interactive anatomy app. It is best utilized on a tablet, but is supported by iPhone 4S (and newer) and iOS 8 (and newer). This app was a huge help for me in grasping three-dimensional orientation of structures when studying outside of the anatomy lab. With a 4.8/5 rating from >10,000 reviews, it isn’t just me that’s been helped. The interface is highly intuitive, with easy zooming and rotation along any axis to view any structure in any orientation. It is best for studying anatomy of the musculoskeletal system, vasculature, and nerves. The app allows you to add and subtract individual structures or entire layers of muscles for easier visualization. The basic functions of the app cost $15. You can also add on (for an additional $10) additional study features that include identification of bone substructures (i.e. tibial tuberosity, ASIS, articular surfaces, etc.) and isolation of a muscle with its origin, insertion, innervation, and supplying vasculature.

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy is an outstanding collection of short (1-10 minutes), high-yield anatomy videos. They are broken down into easily digestible videos covering every part of human anatomy. The videos show actual cadavers and real dissections, which helps make for more realistic studying. While a personal subscription is expensive ($100 for one year), most medical schools should have a subscription through the health sciences library. If not, you can sign up for a 48-hour free trial and run through it all in a two-day marathon session.

Anatomy is difficult, but learnable. Like all of the difficult subjects in medical school, you just have to find the right resources and study habits that work best for you. While most readers will not have the exact same learning style as me, these materials are a great place to start when looking for your go-to anatomy resources.

Back to more pre-clinical resources.

Alan Gambril, MD
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