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Clin Anat. 2010 Jan;23(1):106-14. doi: 10.1002/ca.20900.

Medical students' approaches to learning anatomy: students' experiences and relations to the learning environment.

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  • 1Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom.


To examine students' perceptions and experiences of learning anatomy, an on-line Likert-style questionnaire was administered during 2006 to students reading a Bachelor of Medicine 4- and 5-year program (n = 256, 23.8%). Statistical analysis found that students predominantly felt that understanding anatomy and working with human cadaveric material were very important in becoming a doctor. Students reported that working on cadaveric specimens was an effective way of learning anatomy, and also found the amount of anatomy they needed to learn to be daunting. Student responses were correlated with their approaches to learning [Approaches to Studying Inventory for Students (ASSIST)] scores using a Kruskal Wallis test. Significant relationships between the approach to learning anatomy adopted and students' perception and experience of anatomy were found. A deep approach to learning anatomy correlated with students who reported that the most effective way of learning anatomy in the dissecting room was to get their hands in and feel for structures, who used anatomical terms and language at clinical opportunities, and who frequently used their anatomy-radiology knowledge in clinical situations. A surface approach to learning anatomy was associated with elements, such as students finding anatomy learning daunting and not seeing the point to it. The outcomes provide clear associations between students' perception of the anatomy learning environment, the approach to learning adopted, and the anatomy activities in which students engage. The findings highlight that understanding and applying anatomical knowledge are best accomplished by the adoption of a deep approach to learning.

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