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Radiological anatomy: A must-have tool for every medical student

Recommended video: Radiological anatomy [05:28]
Definition and how to learn radiological anatomy.

"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - Saint Francis of Assisi

One can easily argue that only a minority of people truly follow the above advice in today’s day and age. Sadly, the weakest link in the above path to greatness does not lie somewhere in the middle or the end, but rather at the very beginning. Many individuals fail at the first hurdle and never manage to achieve their fullest potential. This is definitely not from a lack of ability as you might easily believe. Every human is capable to succeed. Instead, it is usually from a lack of even trying because the first obstacle is perceived as ‘impossible’.

Unfortunately, the same mentality plagues your anatomy learning. To understand the complexity of the human body and become a walking anatomy encyclopedia, you need to do what is necessary. You need to read thousand of pages, draw hundreds of diagrams, and dissect tens of cadavers. Remember, fears are overcome by confronting them, personal development happens by putting yourself in various social situations and becoming a doctor requires many sacrifices. What do all of these have in common? Doing what is necessary initially and for this subject, the required aspect is radiological anatomy (RA).

This article will explain the idea of radiological anatomy, why it is a must-tool for every medical student (exactly, including you!) and how it can finally help you do the impossible.

  1. What is radiological anatomy?
  2. Why is it a must-have?
  3. Why is it a tool?
  4. Why for every medical student?
  5. Highlights
  6. Sources
+ Show all
Brain MRI

What is radiological anatomy?

More than like you already know what radiology is or you have heard of it. Radiology is a medical speciality that uses a variety of imaging techniques to pinpoint, diagnose and manage pathologies affecting the human body. A radiologist is often referred to as a ‘doctor’s doctor’ because he or she helps your actual physician to reach a conclusion. They examine elaborate images obtained in crowded spaces, which are performed by contraptions making strange noises and laser lights twisting and turning around you, making you feel like John Travolta dancing in ‘Saturday Night Fever’.

PET CT Scanner

While radiology helps to understand what is abnormal, RA helps you understand what is normal. In a way it is like Yin and Yang - quite opposite, yet complementary. Everything in RA is normal - the images are similar to those in your typical anatomy textbook and cadaveric cross-sections, but with the typical radiological aspect. Its sole purpose is to provide you with a stepping stone towards a better understanding of the human body.

Why is it a must-have?

Nobody is denying that anatomy requires many resources. There are diagrams, atlases, thousands of pages packed with words typed with size 10 characters, cadavers, cross-sections, etc. - all of which you are expected to know. Combine that with a limited amount of time and anatomy almost feels like a degree by itself.

As if the above is not enough, hearing that radiological anatomy is a must-have is perhaps the last thing you need. However, here is some food for thought for you to sincerely consider:

  • Why do so many medical specialities converge on the field of radiology and the use of such images?
  • Why do over 90% of residency coordinators and directors believe it is essential for medical graduates to know basic radiological interpretations (according to surveys)?
  • Why do 70 to 80% of students who took part in a RA program understood the material better at the end and improved their understanding of the spatial relationships within the human body?
Male abdomen (CT)

No matter how you ‘slice the situation’, there is only one real answer - RA simply works. It is essential, or in other words, a ‘must-have’. It’s quite easy to spot the appeal - various views of anatomical structures, like cadaveric sections, but portrayed in a way that mimics everyday clinical practice. You can consider RA as the 21st century touch to ‘cadaveric anatomy’.

You might think that all of the normal anatomical situations can be covered in during your radiology rotation or module. This is indeed true; after all it has been done like this for a long time. However, they are presented only briefly before jumping into the pathologies, putting the onus on you to understand what is normal in your own time. Therefore, why double your work during a couple of months when you can divide it more manageable chunks?  

Why is it a tool?

While RA can certainly be considered essential, you should think about it as a tool. It is similar to using a saw, screwdriver or any DIY equipment. You need to fit the tool to the purpose and know the appropriate time and place to use it.

Before diving into RA make sure to learn the normal anatomy

RA is exactly the same. It cannot be replaced or ignored during your anatomy studies, but it will also not replace anything as well. Unfortunately, your anatomical resources will not diminish. You need to take it step-by-step because you can’t jump straight into it. Radiological images and cross-sections only help if you already know the fundamental anatomy. According to studies, a large proportion of students wanted ‘less content, making lectures slower paced and less complex [in order to] focus on the basics’. Similar to cadaveric cross-sections, RA is a double edged sword and putting the cart before the horse can be detrimental. Therefore, make sure you check Kenhub’s quizzes and videos to master the material first. After that, go and test your understanding on the cadavers and then you will certainly feel ready to tackle RA. Remember, Rome was not built in a day and neither can your anatomical knowledge!

Learn how to read medical imaging scans and reinforce your anatomy knowledge here.

Why for every medical student?

Hopefully, you are now somewhat convinced that RA is indeed a must-have tool. However, is it beneficial for every medical student, including you? Absolutely! Here’s why.

You are certainly busy as a medical student, but you do have the time to invest in RA. If you follow the steps in the previous section, it will be a breeze to navigate through the radiological images. It will literally take a couple of minutes to test yourself because RA is a natural progression from cadaveric cross-sections. In addition, the return on your small investment will be huge in the long run.

Knee MRI

This brings the discussion onto the second point - the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Actually, it is an exaggeration to call them drawbacks, but rather challenges. If you take it step-by-step you will crush anatomy from every possible angle. You will be also become familiar with radiological images and when the time comes, they will be child’s play for you. Remember, you only reap what you sow so put the time in early!

What if you believe you are not a ‘visual learner’? Unfortunately, you need to develop your visualization skills in this subject and your future medical career, so you need to start learning to roll with the punches. Also, you are certainly not an kinesthetic, auditory or visual learner (the concept of learning styles is a myth - check this article to find out why) but an individual that can learn in many ways, using a variety of learning strategies.

Therefore, RA is certainly a must-have tool for every medical student. While it is quite distinct from radiology, it is the perfect companion for your study needs to help you consolidate all your anatomy knowledge and prepare you for the future.

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