Thoughts of medical school and gross anatomy inherently go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, the idea of dissecting another human being breeds a lot of anxiety for the incoming medical student. I am sure there are a billion whimsically written posts on the internet titled “my first day in gross anatomy” and “the great gift of giving a cadaver”. This site isn’t about that, it is about giving you the information you need to succeed. Let’s do it!
1. Cutting into dead people is weird… but you’ll get over it
As my lab partners and I stood around our body pondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into it became time to make the first cut. It’s an odd feeling when you begin to dissect a human. You know what really got to me though? How quickly we became desensitized to what we were doing. Within days we were slicing away and chatting in up without second thought. Mind you, we always kept it respectful but it is also important to remember that these people willingly gave their bodies to us to learn with. Dive in and do your best not to get creeped out, that’s what everyone (including the cadaver) is there for!
2. It will have very little bearing on the rest of your career
Let’s face it, most docs don’t need an intimate understanding of anatomy to do their jobs well. When is the last time you think an internist needed to know the exact course of the internal pudenal artery? Gross anatomy, like most of medical school, is full of BS minutia that has little bearing on everyday practice. Even as a budding surgeon I only use a scant amount of what we learned in gross anatomy. So what’s the point? The best I can come up with is if you learn the minutia then the basics will seem easy. But really, I don’t see the point. History? To make medical students shudder? I think I feel a post coming on why most of the medical school curriculum is ridiculous coming up…
3. Your atlas is your friend
I did shitty on my first several anatomy quizzes. Then I learned the secret to performing well on anatomy. Go in, get the dissection done to make your professors happy and then go study somewhere else. Trying to study from our actual dissections was an exercise in futility.
Where is the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve?
Oh, Hulk Hands Henry ripped that out, he thought it was a piece of fat.
The best advice I can give is to learn what things SHOULD look like from an atlas like Rohen’s Color Atlas of Anatomy: A Photographic Study of the Human Body. This book is the shit. It provides detailed photographs of beautifully pro-sected* cadavers allowing you to actually LEARN the anatomy. THEN studying your own dissections becomes much easier. Once I adapted this technique my anatomy grades skyrocketed!
4. Doing poorly is not the end of your medical school career
There is a huge emphasis placed on gross anatomy by medical schools and medical students. Inevitably you or one of your close friends will struggle through. Understandably this causes more than a bit of anxiety.
Oh no Survivor! If I could barely pass anatomy how ever will I succeed in the rest of medical school? I am destined to become a primary care provider in central North Dakota!
Look, it surely isn’t a good thing to struggle through this course but it is not the end of the world either. There is a lot going against you. You are a brand new medical student adjusting to all that is med school and you have likely never done anything remotely like this before. Relax, take a chill pill, have a beer. Once you get into your groove and into the typical chew and spew med school classes you will be fine!
5. Just because you didn’t LOVE gross anatomy doesn’t mean you can’t become a surgeon
Case in point, this guy! I didn’t hate gross anatomy but I didn’t love it either. For me, hours of tediously picking through fat on a slowly drying cadaver really isn’t my cup of tea. It also is nothing like actual surgery. If your local general surgeon is beginning his cholecystectomies by first removing the skin from the entire body, please call the police!
Gross anatomy is a right of passage that we all must endure but it doesn’t have to be the behemoth that people make it out to be. This post probably didn’t answer all of your questions about gross anatomy but I wanted to hit some of the areas that aren’t talked about as often. If you have further questions please ask them below.
*Pro-sected just means that someone who actually knows what the fuck they are doing dissected the cadaver, some medical schools and many other professional schools actually hire people to do this. This is a better option in my opinion, it saves the medical student valuable time and the dissections actually come out appearing as they should.