Intended for healthcare professionals


Modern approaches to teaching and learning anatomy

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 09 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1310
  1. John P Collins, dean of education
  1. 1Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia
  1. john.collins{at}
  • Accepted 16 May 2008

The view that new doctors have inadequate knowledge of anatomy is not supported by the evidence, argues John Collins, but greater effort is needed to capitalise on the learning potential of new technologies

Recent reports from the United Kingdom1 and Australia2 claim the teaching and learning of anatomy in universities is in crisis. This is attributed to less time being allocated to the subject and decreased opportunities to dissect cadavers. Although everyone would agree anatomy is important, few lament the move away from endless hours of cadaver dissection and didactic lectures. Efficient use of new technology and teaching methods should allow better teaching and understanding.

Is anatomy teaching in crisis?

The evidence most frequently quoted for the so called crisis is Raftery’s assertion that there has been a “vast increase in claims associated with the lack of anatomical knowledge.”3 This claim was based on the finding that “damage to underlying structures” was the commonest reason for settlements of claims relating to general and vascular surgery.4 Lack of knowledge of anatomy is but one cause of such intraoperative errors, albeit an important one. And many of the errors are likely to have been made by surgeons who graduated before changes in the teaching of anatomy. A reduced focus on learning and assessment of anatomy in some postgraduate surgical training programmes has been reported3 5 and may be important.

Media coverage of the introduction of newer methods for teaching and learning anatomy has tended to focus on the negative, with little if any discussion of the value of cadaver dissection.6 Last year, the Australian reported, “Less than four in ten medical students agreed they will know enough anatomy to become competent doctors.”2 This was based on responses from students to a survey conducted by the Australian Medical Students’ Association. …

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