Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 12 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5515
  1. Andy Hall, core surgical trainee year 1, St George’s Hospital, London
  1. andyhall07{at}

The decline in basic knowledge of anatomy is an area of widespread concern in the UK undergraduate and postgraduate medical curriculums. Robert Acland’s video atlas series represents a powerful force against this perceived dumbing down and has set about reinvigorating the subject through its crystal clear presentation of human anatomy. Broken into six volumes, the atlas covers the body in its entirety, with sections on the upper limb, lower limb, abdomen, and spine and thorax, and two on the head and neck.

After title sequences set to classical music the viewer is guided by the softly spoken curator without the unnecessary flamboyant showmanship that people such as Gunther von Hagens have more recently injected into modern anatomical discourse. Instead this professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery displays a cool precision that reflects his job as a microsurgeon at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Kentucky.

The specimens are instead the real stars, with first rate dissections exquisitely presented to the audience. Bringing the dissection room into your living room was not a simple task for the production team, and the voiceover is perfectly synchronised with the images shown. Each minute of footage took a staggering 12 hours to produce, and overall its understated elegance deserves to be celebrated.

The intuitive choreography allows you to grasp concepts and visualise anatomical relations otherwise impossible outside the dissecting room. The simple premise of rotating the specimen allows you to memorise features in spatial or three dimensional form, as you would in conventional cadaveric dissection.

Although only ever intended as an adjunct to formal teaching, it’s difficult to find fault with this video series. It was initially recommended to me for preparation for the examination for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. The simplicity of expression and deft camera work allow an efficiency that is welcome before examinations. Additionally Professor Acland places great emphasis on recapping anatomy that may serve as a spot test after a chapter to test your learning if you turn the sound down.

The atlas was initially released in VHS format in 1995. Now the DVD version offers an excellent revision medium for surgical trainees, medical students, or anyone with an interest in human anatomy. The focus of the series is not just on obtaining raw knowledge, because learning lists from a book would surely be a better alternative. Rather the atlas promotes a deeper and more clinically useful understanding of the human body. This groundbreaking video series signified the beginning of a new era in presenting and teaching human anatomy.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5515