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phaedryx's avatar

Hey medical types, how did you learn anatomy?

Asked by phaedryx (6118points) June 28th, 2010

My wife is currently taking a summer semester anatomy class (which is ⅔ the time of the regular anatomy class). It is a lot of terms, locations, etc. to learn and she’s starting to worry about it. Do you have any tips or tricks that I could pass on to her?

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18 Answers

MissAusten's avatar

If she hasn’t already, she should study up on Latin medical prefixes and suffixes. A lot of anatomical and medical terms are easy to remember if you know what the roots of the words mean. My high school anatomy teacher made us learn the Latin roots, and it helped immensely when I got to college and took two semesters of anatomy and physiology. This is a good list to start with.

Beyond that, learning anatomy is basically just a lot of memorization. How to best approach the task depends on your wife’s learning style. I found that making flashcards of vocabulary words helped to memorize them, and drawing and labeling my own diagrams, like the structure of a cell, helped me remember those things. I also used to annoy my roommate by spending the days leading up to an exam only using correct medical terms for body parts.

Disc2021's avatar

Before taking the class, here’s a story I was told from another professor who took the class as advice

Him to his anatomy professor: “You know, there are so many names, processes, terminology and concepts to grasp; I’m having a hard time retaining all of this information, is there an easier way to memorize all of this?”

Anatomy Professor: “Memorize them.”
Him: Yeah, exactly, how do I memorize them?”
Anatomy Professor: “Memorize them.” – So forth.

That’s exactly how I felt about the course, you simply just need to beat it into your head and the easiest shortcut to take is just admitting that it’s a lot of material that requires a good amount of dedication. I went to the open study lab at least 4 times a week and I practically took my Anatomy and Physiology book with me everywhere I went. It was my bible and I was a monk for the semester. I would re-copy all of my notes, re-read the text, ask my professor to briefly re-cap certain concepts and clarify any areas I was still shallow on. Don’t let it all intimidate you – instead, take interest in it as that will just make all of this come easier.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Anatomy is a lot of memorization. The best thing your wife can do is use her learning style to help her out. If she learns best by listening, have her record her lectures and listen to them over and over. If she learns best by seeing, have her make some blank copies of the body (or whichever system she is working on) and practice labeling the picture over and over to help her remember. If she learns better hands on, encourage her to tell you which part is which on your body.

ubersiren's avatar

It’s definitely a lot of memorization. I like taking quizzes to help me with memorization type info. is a great site for such quizzes.

Just some random tips:
Minor usually means smaller or inferior and Major usually means larger or superior.
Learn the bones and their landmarks before muscles, and it will help you with the names of the muscles (ex: sternocleidomastoid).
Inquire about mnemonics, or make some up. She probably learned this already if she learned the muscles, but:
Rotator cuff muscles “The SITS muscles”:
ยท Clockwise from top:
Teres minor

jlm11f's avatar

I answered a similar Q on another site very recently 3 days ago, so forgive me, but I’m just going to repaste with a few minor additions since my answer hasn’t changed.

Time and repetition. Anatomy is not something you can look at once and expect to know it on test day. You need to consistently study it and then relearn and rehash every other day. Draw out the parts. It doesn’t need to be the next Picasso, but if you can draw it, then you know it. Here’s one of my recent drawings that got mocked in the chat room to prove my point.

Look at each structure with all orientations. What does it look like if you observe it from the top/bottom/side etc. For each lab station, before trying to identify the muscle/vessel that the pin is placed on, take a broad approach. Mentally note the area you’re in. If you’re looking at the arm for example, you can cancel out the gracilis as being one of the possible muscles there. Try to find the one key structure in every part and then orient everything else around that.

I won’t recommend a specific atlas because I feel they all amount to the same. Don’t go crazy trying to look at everything in 20 different atlases. Spending time with the cadavers is more important. If flashcards are your thing, Netters flashcards are the most popular I believe.

Lastly, relate structure to function. This will help take out some of the monotony out of anatomy and help her out with the lecture portion too.

Hope this helps.

Edited to add: If she needs any study resources, like a PDF with all muscles with their functions, or a powerpoint of arteries starting from aorta to the whole body, let me know. I have about a billion things to share.

JLeslie's avatar

I took AP Anatomy and Physiology in high school, which was a long time ago. Generally I try to use tricks to learn things like rhymes, or using the first letter of each word in a catchy phrase. With Anatomy I take one section of the body and learn it. I think of the body logically top to bottom, so if I learned bones in the leg I would start up at the thigh and go down to the foot. I kind of picture the list of words in order and then I can pair it up. Like I said I might make a word or catchy phrase from the first letter of each bone to help me remember. I am always thinking of my body, how it is part of me, not just that it is something I am learning in a book. When I learned the digestive system, I thought about how the food I eat travels through the system where it is in my body.

poofandmook's avatar

Thank goodness for this question… I’m taking anatomy and physiology in August as part of the phlebotomy program and I’m glad to have some extra tips.. thanks!

anartist's avatar

One bone at a time.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I agree with what everyone said about prefixes and suffixes and memorization. I made flashcards for myself (probably about 1000 of them, lol) and had my family quiz me.

Iclamae's avatar

I’m planning on taking Anatomy and Physiology some time within the next year. I had a baby version of it during high school and I think the best way for me to learn it is going to be through visuals for memorization. (I’m a visual learner). I’m a big fan of drawing my own diagrams and labeling them and of the “Human Anatomy Coloring Book” which was our high school required book.

If your wife is also a visual learner, have her work on diagramming and filling in a lot of blank diagrams.

poofandmook's avatar

I just picked up Mosby’s A&P flash cards, Kaplan Medical’s anatomy coloring book, and a Sparkchart on medical terminology.

anartist's avatar

learn the song Dry Bones, then learn the names of the bones—then make up a new song about the muscles.

sleepdoc's avatar

Ok I had college anatomy and then advanced anatomy and then medical school anatomy. To be honest there is nothing that beats repetition. Flash cards work well for many people. Depending on the amount of time she has to spend on the class I would say that making your own is a good idea. Having to actually write the words out yourself helps them to stick better. But it a pinch there a lots of really good ones available to buy. And actually saying (pronouncing) the names either out loud or at least in your head (not just saying oh I know it when I see that one) is key too.

poofandmook's avatar

have any of you anatomy scholars benefited from a coloring book? There were so many of them at the book store, and by the reputable textbook people, yet my father (nurse) and co-worker (phlebotomist) had never seen or heard of one. Was it a waste of money?

(though honestly I could’ve bought a children’s coloring book, learned nothing, and still not considered it a waste of money lol)

sleepdoc's avatar

I had a professor who’s study guide was something akin to a coloring book. In anatomy there is something about making the study materials that just helps cement the information. The you can see the picture you made with the colors you chose.

anartist's avatar

I had “the invisible man” as a kid—now there is a real [virtual] invisible man to study

Seaofclouds's avatar

@poofandmook I never bought the coloring books, but some of the other people in my nursing classes did. They would copy the pages from the books and then fill in the same page over and over again to help commit it to memory.

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