Journal Archive > 2002 > March

How to pass anatomy without passing out

So you made it through the first semester of med school. Plasmids and microtubules were no problem. Fat metabolism was a little shaky, but you survived. Yet somehow, you never really felt like a real medical student—until now. Why the sudden change, you wonder? What were you missing? The answer is Gross Anatomy. As you may have realized by now, this class truly separates the men from the boys, the doctors from the surgeons, and the honors students from the sane ones.

So how can you possibly learn all this stuff? What you called the leg is really the "lower extremity," and what you called the back of the knee is the "popliteal something-or-other." The Wellness Committee will offer you advice. Don't listen to any of that mumbo jumbo. Take it from someone who worked down in the lab for the summer. (Man, why didn't I just work at Blockbuster?) So here are my suggestions for surviving "Clinical Anatomy." Strap in. It's going to be a wild ride.

You might be uncomfortable in the lab with all those cadavers. Here's one way to get over the fear. Get a couple of friends to work in the lab with nobody else there. Before leaving, spend the last 10 minutes sitting in complete darkness. If you can sit there for the full 10 minutes, you're set! You'll probably have horrible nightmares, but honoring the class is worth it, right?

Then there are other problems, like how am I going to get this SMELL off my hands? Early in the semester, everybody will have his or her own way to avoid smelling like formaldehyde.

When it comes to the pure smell, think risk management. Just like sex ed in high school, abstinence is the best policy. If you don't go to the anatomy lab, you can't get any STDs. Wait, that's not right. You won't smell. But you won't learn the anatomy if you don't go to lab. For the hands, I recommend double gloving. Some people put soap on in between the gloves, but that's just too much effort. Then, run home as fast as you can to shower. Forty-five minutes of lather should do the trick.

The smell can actually come in handy. When you're waiting for your sandwich in Au Bon Pain, it's always packed, right? Will "Sam" want to wait in line for chicken dijon on rye if your BO almost makes him vomit? You might as well just milk it as long as you can.

This class is the first I've taken where I realize why it would help me in the future. I'm still waiting for the day when I have to think: "At a time like this, what would Rene Descartes do?" (Ah, undergrad years.)

So if you follow some of these tips, hopefully, anatomy will be less stressful. With physiology, on the other hand, you're on your own.

Christopher Moran is a member of the Class of 2004 at the School of Medicine. This piece was excerpted from The Connective Issue, the online publication of medical school students (