Medical Gross Anatomy (Post-Cranial) Review

General Overview

Over the past six weeks I was thrust into day-long adventures into the foray of the post-cranial human body. As part of the masters program I was in last year, we had to take this class as part of our curriculum, so I had a huge advantage taking it this time around. It was still a lot of work, but concepts came back to me a lot quicker, and I knew what to expect when it came to exam questions. Overall, our schedule consisted of two to three hours of lectures in the morning with three to four hours of lab in the afternoon with an hour in between for lunch. The majority of the material wasn't complicated to understand but the amount being thrown in our faces every day made it a challenge. Every evening and weekend was spent studying to avoid falling behind at all costs. Seriously, no days off. Spending time in the lab was probably my favorite part. Dissecting can be harsh on the senses, time-consuming, and completely frustrating when you realize your body looks nothing like the atlases (yea no color coded arteries, nerves, muscles, veins, etc.), however, the experience of physically exploring an actual human body is like no other. I realize that technology is playing an increasingly strong role in medical education, including the lab, but I believe nothing can take the place of holding an actual heart, feeling the compressibility of a vein, unwinding the small bowel, observing the large differences in muscle size between bodies, among so many other things. I could not be more grateful for the generous human beings willing to allow us to use their bodies to further our education. Lab is where everything came together for me. I would read about the celiac trunk and all of its branches at home, but the process of finding it and tracing out all of its branches on the cadaver is what truly solidified the information in my head. For this course, our labs preceded the lecture on the material. For example, on Tuesday we may have our lab on the hand, but we did not get lectured on the material until Wednesday morning. This meant more work on our part as students since trying to go into lab blind will only hinder our learning. Therefore, we were forced to start the learning process ourselves and start making our own connections.  This did lead to a little more work every night. The upside to this is that it facilitated a more active studying style which is better for learning and retaining information. Also, by the time we received the lecture for the material, it felt more like review. 


  • Board Review Series (BRS) Gross Anatomy which is pictured above was my go-to text for anatomy. I really liked how easy it was to read and the way it organized information. Also, the review questions at the end of each section were clutch when it came to reviewing for the exams because the questions are written in a very similar format. 
  • Moore's Clinical Anatomy was our required textbook for the course. This textbook focuses on correlating anatomy with clinical scenarios. This book was helpful because the majority of our exam questions were in a clinical scenario format. Knowing how damage to a particular nerve or artery will cause certain symptoms provides more context for learning a structure which is much better than just rote memorization.
  • Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy is a great source for a general visualization of the layout of the body. Obviously, no one looks exactly like a "Netter" body; I learned very quickly that variation is the norm. However, the drawings are very well done, filled with more labels than you could possibly need, and perfect for previewing a particular area of the body before learning the details. 
  • Thieme's Atlas of Anatomy is another popular atlas. I didn't have my own copy, but there were copies provided in the lab. I have no strong preference for Thieme's over Netter's because it is a good idea to see multiple drawings of the same thing, rather than just trying to memorize one picture. Viewing a structure from multiple perspectives allowed me to get more comfortable with it. I did prefer how Thieme's provided a small amount of information like muscle origins, insertions, and actions along with the photos whereas Netter's is strictly photos. 
  • Grant's Dissector is the go-text for dissections. We did have dissection guides from our professors, but having this text is helpful for honing your dissection skills and presenting a clear picture for how to dissect certain structures. 
  • Where would I be without the advent of YouTube?? On multiple occasions I was able to fully grasp a concept from a 5-10 minute YouTube video that I was only able to vaguely understand via lectures and textbooks. 
  • I would also highly recommend a 3-D anatomy app like Essential Anatomy or Visible Body, particularly if you have a tablet. Being able to virtually manipulate the body by isolating different structures, viewing muscle actions, etc. was very helpful. 

Study Techniques:

I played around with a lot of different study techniques for this course. About 75% of the time I would make parsed notes on each lecture topic because it forced me to focus on what the key points were for each lecture to avoid writing everything down. I also have found that there were some Power Points that were not organized in a way that my brain favored, so spending the time re-organizing the information for each lecture made it much easier to review. With that said, there were times I didn't re-organize the information or make a summary of notes, and I still did just fine with those topics. For future courses I still plan to take notes, because trying to review 100s of Power Point slides is a lot more daunting than reviewing my couple of pages of notes in my own words organized just the way I like it. It is a very time-consuming technique so I will see if I can streamline the process in the future. One habit that was consistent was making flashcards for each lecture. I have been using Anki for this venture since it applies a spaced repetition technique which essentially makes a card "due" for me to review just before I forget it. Since it has a mobile app along with its desktop app, I could easily review cards in between lectures, during lunch breaks, while filling up my gas tank, while working out on the treadmill, whenever! Now that I am getting more comfortable with the program, I find it to be an invaluable resource for learning that I plan to continue using as part of my study habits going forward.


I could go on but I would rather not bore you all with every single detail of the course, but if you have questions about anything ask away!