Anatomy is a widely dreaded subject as it is highly dependent on memorization. Unlike physiology and pathology, where understanding the process can get you 90% of the way to the correct answer, anatomy questions are much more specific and can be a hit-or-miss on Step 1. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the anatomy multiverse.
- Start Early
No matter how big the procrastination beast is, our will shall be greater. Starting as early as possible gives you a great advantage; you’ll have the ability to alter your approach if things don’t go well. Starting anatomy a few weeks before exams can be disastrous. Too much information, too little time. Therefore, try to find the motivation to start your studying early, and future you will thank you immensely.
- Use Physeo
Physeo is one of the few steps preparation programs that offer comprehensive anatomy videos. I used them myself in my steps preparation. I am a visual learner and watching the Physeo anatomy videos for certain subjects has done me wonders. Not only do they explain embryology and how the structures have grown to function the way they function, but they also help you grip the pathologies associated with any acquired or congenital deformities. This helps you tie in the anatomy with the pathophysiology, allowing you to more easily answer any question that comes your way.
- Use an Anatomy Atlas / 3D model
Using a 10-pound anatomy reference book is much less effective than using an atlas. You can supplement your lab work, class notes, or powerpoints with an atlas where the structures are drawn well and you can clearly see the origin and insertion of each muscle. Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy is a great place to start.
If you’re anything like me and love to trick yourself into thinking you’re doing work, try an anatomy coloring book. Not only am I studying, but I’m coloring while I’m at it. My brain is tricked into thinking I’m training to be an artist but in reality I’m tracing the origin and insertion of the quadriceps muscle. Got you brain!!
Looking and feeling 3D models will also include a tactile learning element, further hammering the points down. Some libraries allow you to borrow a 3D model to take home and study with. Going to live dissections can be another way to make tactile connections. Some dissections are also available online if you aren’t able to go to a real one.
- Use mnemonics and etymology
Mnemonics are easy ways to memorize long lists that would usually be much harder to memorize. For example, “The humerus SITS in the glenoid fossa” is a mnemonic for the muscles of the Rotator Cuff :
- Teres minor
A google search or a quick query on medicalmnemonics.com is an easy way to find mnemonics online. However, you can always come up with your own mnemonics that can be much easier to remember due to personal connections.
Etymology, on the other hand, is the study of the origin of words. As we all know, a large portion of medicine is based on Latin, therefore, understanding the origin of words can be a door to deciphering the function/position of that muscle that you’re just seeing for the first time. Take for example the abductor digiti minimi :
- Abductor comes from the words abducens which is divided into ab=from and ducens=led, meaning to lead/move AWAY from
- Digiti from digitus meaning digit, referring to a finger or toe. Up to this point, we understand that this muscle leads a digit away.
- Minimi is where the specificity of the muscle has been made. Minimi is Latin for mini or tiny, meaning this muscle moves a small digit away.
- Use your own body
Use your own body or a willing friend or colleague to study natural positioning and active movement. Seeing muscles in action can aid greatly in visual memory. For example, while sitting up with your legs laid out in front of you, try to rotate your whole leg inwards (medially). While doing this try to hold on to the different muscle groups in your thigh, feeling which muscle groups contract and play the greatest part in that action. Then study which muscles you could’ve palpated and felt.
- Look at the associated pathology
The pathology associated with the loss of function of a specific muscle can help you understand the original function. For example, an injury of the serratus anterior muscle which is supplied by the long thoracic nerve presents with winging of the scapula. This winging can help you understand that the normal function of the serratus anterior is to pull the scapula forward towards the thorax.
- Make flashcards
Active recall is one of the best ways to study anatomy (or any other subject for that matter). As mentioned earlier, anatomy is greatly based on pure memorization. So try to make your own Anki deck and hammer that down, or use a ready-made anatomy deck such as Dorian’s anatomy or Anatoking.
When making my own Anki deck for anatomy I used the Image Occlusion Tool to enhance my recall of the locations of muscles. This tool allows you to draw boxes above areas in diagrams. Hence, try hiding the names of the foramina of the skull and review them as you go. Here is the link to this tool.
Old-fashioned paper flashcards can also be of great help. Whether you make them yourself or buy a ready-made deck such as the Kaplan deck is entirely up to you. Just try your best to stick to your reviews.
- Quiz yourself
As always, to make sure you completely understand the topic you have just studied, take a quiz. Take a small online quiz or make a pure anatomy block of questions. Once you take the assessment and figure out what you need to spend more time on, revise and reassess.
Learning anatomy can be difficult, but using the tips above can help you ace all your anatomy exams. The Physeo videos give you a comprehensive understanding of embryology, gross anatomy, and pathophysiology. Flashcards can help you make some long-term memories and quizzing yourself will allow you to learn from your mistakes. Anatomy isn’t an easy subject, so try to take it easy on yourself and remember to give yourself credit for how far you’ve come!