The Complete Guide To Becoming An Anatomy Doctor

Published on: 5 Oct 2021

Anatomy Doctor


The Role Of An Anatomy Doctor

A human anatomist is a medical and biological scientist, who studies the human body with a particular focus on the morphology of the human body and its parts.

Anatomists can study the organism as a whole, but many specialise in different body systems, and there are also opportunities to specialise in biological imaging, histology, in cellular or molecular biology, genetics, forensic medicine and more.(1) 

A career as an anatomy doctor thus offers many options and professional directions. An anatomist may perform clinical work, carry out research or work in an academic setting. Most research and clinical anatomists choose to teach alongside their careers. A scientifically trained anatomist without a medical degree may work in biological imaging, anatomical pathology, forensic science, cellular and molecular biology in biomedical laboratories, research centres and they often take teaching positions at universities, or work in the scientific writing sector for scientific journals. (1,2,3)

Many anatomists opt to obtain a further degree and training in Medicine or Dentistry and proceed to work in a clinical setting or a surgical specialty.(1,2,3)

Anatomy remains an important scientific branch in clinical medicine and surgery, and anatomical research regularly uncovers new anatomical anomalies, thus remains important for the advancement of healthcare.

Currently, out of the students enrolled in an anatomy university course, 29% are female and 71% are male.(4) In terms of medical research, between 2008 and 2017 35.0% of all authorships in high-impact medical journals were held by women.(5) In surgical specialties, where anatomy specialists often choose to work if they go on to complete a medical degree, the male to female consultant ratio in the UK is 8:1.(6)

Anatomists often work with other medical and biological scientists and technicians, clinicians and nurses, laboratory technicians, academic staff and more, depending on their choice of career path.(2)

An aspiring anatomist should display sound problem-solving skills, assertiveness and good communication skills, attention to detail, and intrinsic interest and fascination with the human body and its parts. An anatomist should be able to work well in a team and for research careers, be comfortable with obtaining and interpreting statistical data and have relevant skills in scientific writing. (1)


A Typical Day

A typical day for an anatomist varies depending on their career choice. The majority of a research anatomist’s day will be spent in a laboratory setting studying anatomical specimens, and the rest of the time will be divided between teaching scientists and healthcare professionals at universities, or medical centres and clinics, and some anatomists will acquire a PhD (if they have not already) and become university professors alongside their research career.(1,2) 

Anatomy research will often require travelling either for research purposes or to present a project at national or international conferences, and due to that as well as the amount of time dedicated to research in a laboratory the working hours may be irregular. (1)


The Route To Becoming An Anatomy Doctor

Anatomists who have completed a degree in Medicine or Dentistry often choose to work in a specialty in the clinical sector, where their typical day will depend on what they specialise in.

Physiotherapy and sports science are increasingly popular career options amongst anatomy students. (3) Physiotherapists often work with post-operative patients, patients with orthopaedic conditions and issues such as joint problems, muscle, tendon or ligament tears and strains, etc, while sports scientists work either with athletes helping them maximise their performance, or in research exploring the effect of exercise on the human anatomy and physiology.(7)

With a BSc in anatomy, biological sciences or natural sciences there are opportunities to apply for a post of an anatomy laboratory technician or a teaching assistant, however an MSc or a PhD degree in anatomical sciences is usually required to be employed in a higher position in anatomy research.(2) A bachelor’s degree in the UK lasts 3-4 years, a master’s degree takes additional two years and a PhD will take three to four years to complete if it is full time, six to seven years if it is done part time. 

Some of the top universities with the best Anatomy and Physiology courses are Cambridge, St Andrews, Newcastle University, Oxford, and University of Glasgow, and a few universities, such as Bristol or Keele also offer undergraduate studies in Applied Anatomy.(8)

An anatomy student may opt for a postgraduate entry into a Medicine or Dentistry course. After its completion, usually 5-6 years, they will be required to undergo 2 years of foundation training after which they may continue training in a specialty of their choice, and many anatomists with a career in clinical or surgical specialties also carry out research alongside, or pick a specialty in which they can focus on anatomy. Length of training varies with each specialty. 

Medical students interested in anatomy have the option to undertake an intercalated degree in it during their course, prolonging their studies by an additional year.



NHS consultant salaries are the same for all specialties but vary between Scotland (highest), England, Northern Ireland, and Wales (lowest) and increase with service (up to 19 years). In 2020 the salary bands range from £77,779 to £109,849.  Salaries can be further enhanced with NHS excellence awards. 

The average salary for a university professor in the UK is £76,707, and a senior lecturer in anatomy will earn £48,923 on average but may earn up to £59,000. Salary will vary between universities and will change based on experience.(9)

An anatomical pathology technologist trainee’s salary will begin at £18,813 (Band 3 of the Agenda for Change pay rates) and will rise to over £35,000 earned by a senior anatomical pathology technologist.(10)

A laboratory scientist will earn between £15,000 and £19,000 upon entry into the career and may earn up to £40,000 in management and other higher positions.(11)

For more information on salaries within the NHS, please feel free to review The Complete Guide to NHS Pay.



Before committing to a career in anatomy, the student should conduct some research into the studies and career options in the anatomical sciences sector. Good resources for this are the Journal ‘Clinical Anatomy’ by the British Association of Clinical Anatomists, or the Anatomical Society website. For anatomy students, books like ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ or ‘Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy’, and websites such as Anatomy TV or AnatomyZone.


Related Job Sources With BMJ Careers


More Complete Guides By BMJ Careers



  1. College Dekho, Career as an anatomist, (accessed Jul 2020) 

  2. State university, Careers, Anatomist job description, career as an anatomist, salary, employment, (accessed Jul 2020)

  3. The Guardian, What to do with a degree in anatomy/physiology?, (accessed Jul 2020)

  4. The UniGuide, Studying anatomy at university, (accessed Jul 2020)

  5. Europe PMC, Bendels MHK, Wanke EM, Benik S et al, The gender gap in highest quality medical research- A scientometric analysis of the representation of female authors in highest impact medical journals, (accessed Jul 2020)

  6. Royal College of Surgeons of England, Women in surgery,, (accessed Jul 2020)

  7. National Careers Service, Sports scientist, (accessed Jul 2020) 

  8. Complete University Guide, Anatomy and physiology (subject league table 2021), (accessed Jul 2020) 

  9. Glassdoor, Senior lecturer salaries,,15.htm (Accessed Jul 2020)

  10. Prospects, Anatomical pathology technologist (job profile),, (accessed Jul 2020)

  11. Prospects, Scientific laboratory technician (job profile), (accessed Jul 2020)