Medical Gross Anatomy: Head and Neck Review

General Overview

After finishing post-cranial Medical Gross Anatomy (MGA) [or Intensive Summer Anatomy Course (ISAC) as we called it] over the summer I had a bit of a break between that course and Head and Neck. Since I took part of MGA over the summer I was able to work as a facilitator for the fall MGA course. It was a fun way to meet my classmates, and it really solidified the material I had learned over the summer. All of the facilitators were given a stipend for their time so it was like getting paid to study! Besides not being able to fully enjoy the summer before medical school begins, another downside of ISAC is that you are behind your classmates as far as getting used to the real medical school schedule. When taking anatomy over the summer there are no other courses on which to concentrate such as our Osteopathic Principles and Practices and Essentials of Clinical Medicine courses. Therefore, I was a bit nervous starting Head and Neck. I did "preview" a bit during my down time by learning bone features of the skull which was helpful.

The entire course is about three weeks, and the grade for the Head and Neck final gets lumped in with the rest of the MGA grades. Although learning the branches of the maxillary artery, the Circle of Willis, and all the functions of the cranial nerves seemed daunting at the beginning of the course I surprised myself with how much I was able to master in such a short amount of time. I am starting to learn that I will never know how much my brain is capable of unless I push it to its limits. Of course with medical school its limits are constantly being pushed, and I love it. 

I also loved being back in lab getting to perform the dissections. As a facilitator I helped out in lab, but left most of the dissecting to my classmates taking the course. The Head and Neck dissections were usually not as satisfying as the post-cranial ones since we are working in such a small space looking at small structures. For example, I realize the pterygopalatine ganglion is incredibly important but with all of the work it took to find I was incredibly underwhelmed when I finally viewed it. The labs I enjoyed most were the nasal region (before digging for the pterygopalatine ganglion) because I was able to saw a human skull in half and as well as the orbit lab. 


Note: I copied and pasted most of the resources I used during ISAC because I used a lot of the same ones. 

  • Here is a link to a resource that I think would be really helpful for learning the cranial nerves. I unfortunately discovered it a bit late in the course and therefore did not get to take full advantage of it.
  • Board Review Series (BRS) Gross Anatomy 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. Yes, there is a section for Head and Neck.
  • 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. For Head and Neck in particular they had videos on available by MedStuffs where they taught the anatomy using an exquisite prosection. However, after trying to find the link it appears that account has since been deleted which is really unfortunate. 
  • 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

Again, because the material is so similar to post-cranial anatomy I repeated a lot of the same study strategies. I created summary notes from each lecture, made a lot of drawings, and used Anki+Image Occlusion to memorize facts. A couple of days before the exam I ran through as many practice questions as I had available to me from both BRS and practice questions provided by the professors.