Approaches to anatomy

Where I went to medical school, anatomy was our very first course. I found it incredibly overwhelming, and sometimes looking back I'm amazed I made it through! I think it was more the pace of the course rather than the material itself that made it so challenging. Other parts of medical school, even ones that involved a lot of memorization, didn't seem to bring on the same level of panic. A lot of doctors have written much more eloquently on how learning anatomy using cadavers is an enriching and defining experience of medical school. Instead, I want to focus in this post more on the nuts and bolts of getting through all the material and excelling in your course. 

Create your own mnemonics

There's no Sketchy Anatomy (as of yet), so unfortunately I couldn’t use those amazing visual mnemonics to help me out. Instead, I made my own mnemonics. Pages, pages, and pages of them. I wrote them in a Word document rather than by hand so that I could search for terms more easily. I made sure that they were memorable, which for me usually meant having to do with Welsh Corgis, traveling around England, or baking. I would incorporate the names of my friends and family and try to make the mnemonics tell a story. It was nice to be able to reflect on things I found funny when I called the mnemonics to mind during an exam, in addition to the fact that my ridiculous rhymes helped me remember those seemingly random names of body parts. It brightened up my studying a little bit when I could think about Mary Berry's recipes from the Great British Bakeoff or a Corgi puppy learning how to ski. 

Search for ready-made mnemonics

If making up mnemonics isn't your jam, or you feel like it takes too much time and you'd rather learn ones that are already made, forums online are immensely valuable. Anatomy is a course that a lot of people, not just medical students, have to take as part of their education. There are a ton of resources out there for people who want ready-made mnemonics. One book that I found and purchased my second week of classes was Anatomy Studymate: Maps and Mnemonics, by Mina Azer. 

Find someone who helps you appreciate the subject matter

If you can, try to get to know the faculty and teaching assistants who are leading your course. Our course was taught by professors who actually were not physicians themselves, but rather Ph.Ds who devoted their lives to learning anatomy. There were times when I got so frustrated by the amount of information and the tedious exercise of learning every single branch of some artery, but it would help me to appreciate that there were individuals who literally spent their entire lives learning this information and teaching it to others. I'll never forget one professor I had with a really intense beard and a love for quirky types of animal anatomy. It was nice to be surrounded by someone who really loved this material and saw its intrinsic value, especially when I became bogged down with thoughts about my grade or whether my struggles with anatomy meant that I could never be a surgeon. 

Stay in your lane

If you were like me and you have your anatomy course during the first part of medical school, resist the temptation to compare yourself to your classmates. There will be students in your course who have taken several semesters of undergraduate anatomy, whether they admit it or not. There will be people who remember every part of the brachial plexus without seeming to needing to study or review the material. There will be the one person bragging about their photographic memory. Remember, the start of medical school is a time when a lot of people want to prove to others how competent they are! 

Use what works for you, not others

Stick with the resources that work for you. There will be people saying, “using the Netter’s textbook is the only way to learn anatomy!” There is no one way to learn anything. If you find that a particular method doesn't work for you, don't feel obligated to use it just because others swear by it. Let your sense of understanding of the concepts and your results on exams guide which resources you use. This goes for all of medical school! You can do this.