I am having troubles studying anatomy. Specifically, memorizing all the relations, courses and branches of certain arteries or veins. Can someone suggest a good way to study efficiently? Thank you.


This is normal, anatomy is a complex subject to grasp at first. I can suggest the following to help you study more efficiently:

Learning Strategies

  • Begin by knowing all systems of the human body (learn the skeletal system first and then the muscular system etc.)
  • Focus on a particular system and visualize its parts (learn the head and go down or start with fingers then limbs etc.)

Learning Approaches

  • Exercise your knowledge and ability to recollect using anatomy flashcards
  • Actively engage in your learning (don't only read), color and explain relations

Aitía gave you good answers to start with in structuring your learning: If you sort into digestable chunks what is up for learning, you can feed your long term potentiation with the necessary repetition.

A friend once told me that he started to learn the (peripheral) nervous system first, so he found it easier, later, to attach muscles, and then muscles to bones - this approach is a functional one, not a structural one, though.

I happen to memorize things better - and research has shown that to be effective for the brain - when I imagine a patient case (a pathology) related to an anatomical structure. If that is what you like, books of functional anatomy (you can lay them out side to side with those of structural anatomy) tend to explain more clinical cases or "why's". Find something that connects the content to your life, so that your brain thinks, "aah, that is why that matters", for example, if you do fitness, think of how muscles stretch or contract when you make a movement or how ligaments limit a certain movement etcetera. Many books come with clinical cases (take, for example, golfer's elbow - you may palpate your own Epicondylus medialis when making a fist - this lets you remember where the flexor muscles have their origin). The sensory experience of palpating what you just "learned" turns theoretical knowledge into practical knowledge. "Learning" often meant to the brain that the two were apart, and this performative approach often meant fatigue, thus, the disappearance of joy, which is a central motivating factor in the physiological learning of children.

You can also be rigorous and make a learning plan. That is suggested in an exam preparation book series (The GK Series by Thieme, referring to a forum for German medial students, medi-learn.de), here a summary in my free and brief simplification:

  • reserve 6-8 hours / day for learning, 5 days a week

  • keep track of until when you want to (or "have to") learn "what"

  • don't learn too much "all new" stuff on one day/session, repetition is okay

  • if it is too complicated, learn it in chunks

  • read/learn before noon on one day, what you check/ask yourself in the afternoon of the next day (you can connect the dots with Aitía's flashcard example here)

  • truly seek in yourself what you know already, before you look at the back of a flashcard too fast

  • Let me add: There are also flashcard learning systems that put aside those cards you either labeled "I don't need to repeat THAT", "I could repeat that" and "I should repeat that".

It may also be worth to note that learning benefit from healthy sleep, even only naps, if the brain becomes tired after learning (studies show that after sleep, long term potentiation is improved). Most probably, if you ask it, your brain tells you about the way it likes to digest certain types of information. The more neurons blink, the more connections you make because things and their interdependence become important to your growing understanding, the better the connection between them gets and long term potentiation is reinforced. Podcasts, for example, can be a medium to listen to in supermarkets or subways, still keeping your mind "at it" ... I also imagined me being very small and the structures of the body like roads I'd travel (the french series "Il était une fois… la Vie" may have stimulated that). There is also good 3D visualisation software out there, if you look for it.

There are types of questions explicity linking the "chunks" of structural anatomy, like "What nerve innervates this muscle/organ", "what muscle sits on that part of this bone", "which ligament restricts that joint movement" - you see that my anatomy is more or less based on musculoskeletal needs, but you might want to take that as a metaphor. In school we had a guy whom I talked to about his learning, and he said: "I don't learn muscle functions at all, I simply remember where they are and then imagine what happens when they contract". He was somehow already thinking like the body when I was still learning some thinking. (However, the full scope of some muscle function also can't be explained by just looking at a drawing of them, but he made an important point to my slightly overfocused and a little bit narrow minded brain at the time. I was so busy in attempting "to get it all right" that I lost the big picture, "that I can, basically, grasp things", just not all at once).

If you speak with a buddy (like with us, here), but maybe off-Internet, you get a taste of the personal depth their learning had. One of my other buddies was the son of a doctor. He had a serious love for the stuff. Man, that still inspires me today! It helps me to understand that whatever I understand, "why do I have the feeling he'd understand it better"? But through always knowing-or-feeling that, I always learn, and it never gets really boring ... :)

In the end, I wish to you that you can make learning fun and sometimes think of the smiles of the people that are grateful, when you help them .. it is really the most rewarding thing. My greatest joy is in balancing mild leg length differences with marginal heel lifts and check the results of possibly symmetrically aligned zygapophysial joint movement (with palpation, while radiology hardly is there so far). Here, I desperately need functional anatomy :)! Hardly anyone does mild leg length difference compensation in such relative precision, it is very successful and people are so thankful. Really strange that there's not much more science about "the hard problem of practical relevance" for LLD/LLI, which is of course my favorite example for why learning matters and is fun. I wish you all the success you can have, and that you find your own "favourite problem" to work with! Go for it :) !

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