Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards: Review
Ok, stop! Now that you have glanced over the title, go back and read it again slooooowly - ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards’. Are you getting excited? Not yet? Ok, let’s take a look. Based on one of the world’s most beloved and popular anatomy illustrator’s work - check! Specifically designed to help you get through anatomy in a ‘flash’ by making your learning more manageable and productive - double check! Does it sound exciting now?
|Pros||Netter's illustrations, effective organization of information, one muscle per card, cross-references to atlas images and other plates, portable, Student consult, durable and sturdy|
|Cons||Time consuming and daunting, don't accomplish their purpose very effectively, several titles contain hints, illustrations are not realistic, problematic small size, organized by regions|
It certainly does because those flash cards have some useful advantages and tricks up their sleeve that you can exploit to make the anatomy learning marathon more bearable. However, they also have their drawbacks that can make you think twice before buying them. Nevertheless, these flashcards represent another learning resource that you can add to your toolkit, and this review will help you understand if they are worth your time, or not.
Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards: 4th Edition
First things first, ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards’ were created with one clear and specific aim in mind - to be a supplement to your anatomy textbook and atlas. They are not a replacement, nor a magic trick that can make all anatomy learning difficulties vanish.
As the name implies, they are based on Frank H. Netter’s top class medical illustrations - those of which all health science students know and love. They are the result of the marriage between ‘Netter’s Human Anatomy Atlas’ and ‘Netter’s Clinical Anatomy’ - on the front they showcase extremely close replicas of the atlas illustrations, while the explanations on the back are sprinkled with a dash of clinical knowledge. Therefore, each 10x15cm card packs quite a punch.
Published by Elsevier Saunders, ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards’ are quite a new addition to the realm of anatomy learning. The very first edition appeared only in 2002, to be exact, the time period when the real and enthusiastic drive to bring anatomy learning into the 21st century actually began. The fourth edition, which is the subject of this review, was published in 2014, and their format looks like this:
- Section 1 - Head and neck
- Section 2 - Back and spinal cord
- Section 3 - Thorax
- Section 4 - Abdomen
- Section 5 - Pelvis and perineum
- Section 6 - Upper limb
- Section 7 - Lower limb
In turn, each section follows a conceptual layout of:
- Bones and joints
- Blood vessels
- Organs, if present
Does this table of contents and overall layout ring any bells? If you are a keen anatomy student they should, because the format is identical in terms of both layout and regional approach of teaching to that of ‘Netter’s Human Anatomy Atlas’. This regional rather than systemic approach is like licorice or barbeque sauce in that there is no middle ground: you either love it or you hate it -but we’ll get back to this aspect later.
When it comes to the actual format of individual flashcards, they look as follows:
- Front - classic Netter illustrations with hidden labels accompanied by his calligraphic signature
- Back - anatomical names of each label on the front, comments providing you with more details about the terms, and a clinical box applying the subject of the card to real life.
‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’ come in two flavours - as a collection of about 325 laminated 10x15cm cards (duh, Captain Obvious) and in an electronic (‘eBook’) format. As you can see, portability is the name of the game - if you like to physically handle them, you can grab a batch from the box, loop the conveniently included ring through the holes and off you go. If however you are attached to your electronic device 24/7 (who isn’t nowadays?) and you want to exploit the ‘Search’ function, then open the flash cards on your phone and start studying.
There isn’t a huge difference in terms of price between these two formats, varying between $20 to $30 USD for a new set. Compared to an atlas or textbook, this price point definitely places the flash cards in the ‘Try me out!’ isle of your local bookstore (don’t rush though, wait until you hear the drawbacks to make up your mind).
Netter’s atlases and textbooks are definitely not selfish when it comes to additional resources and this flash card collection is no different. Offering the typical ‘Student Consult’, you get instant online access to the electronic and interactive version of the atlas, as well as hundreds of MCQs. Essentially, they are tests that quiz you on the names, comments, and clinical knowledge presented on the cards, helping pinpoint any gaps in your understanding. Terrified of your upcoming anatomy exams? No worries, they have nothing on you with those resources!
- Signature Netter style - These illustrations are the same as ingredients and tastes are to a chef - instantly recognizable. They are so classic and famous for several reasons: they are clear, beautifully artistic, anatomically accurate (at times even ‘too’ accurate in that very few people are the perfect anatomical specimen depicted by the illustrations), and have a certain charm about them. Essentially, the illustrations are the marketing strategy of all the Netter products, including this flash card collection. The minute you see them, you know the product is the real deal and it uses a good, solid foundation that has stood the test of time.
- Good organization of information - Generally speaking, when you look at flash cards that contain a lot of information on the back (they shouldn’t, but we’ll deal with that later), chills start creeping up along your spine. It’s just a block of text with no real layout, beginning, middle, or end. In other words, it’s a mess! ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’ avoids this by separating the information on the back into three discrete sections: term names, followed by comments, and finally the clinical information. This makes them super convenient to study because if you only want to learn the names, you can simply cover that part of the card and see how well you know them. Similarly, if you want to test yourself on the clinical knowledge, cover the bottom third and you’re set. It’s that easy!
- One muscle per card - When repairing something or doing DIY, every tool fits a purpose. Similarly, flash cards are probably the best tool to learn muscle facts - that is attachments, innervation, blood supply, and actions. ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards’ understands this aspect very well and the muscle sections contain cards dealing with each muscle separately, one at a time. Imagine learning all the muscles of the back together, in one-go - now that is what you can call an anatomy nightmare!
- Cross-references to atlas and other plates - If you decide to buy these flash cards, you might be worried that they’ll be incomplete - and you would be right! However, the authors embrace this limitation in exchange for portability and to overcome it, they have included cross-references and links. At the bottom of each card, you will find ‘portals’ or gateways sending you to specific pages (plates) in ‘Netter’s Human Anatomy Atlas’ where you can see more details about your chosen structure, helping you complete the entire picture. This is not ideal because it forces you to buy the atlas as well, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too, right?
- Portable - This advantage shouldn’t be a surprise because at the end of the day, they are flash cards, so they are portable. While it is quite far fetched to whip out all 325 cards and start studying them on the train or bus, you can separate them into smaller batches and carry those with you instead, boosting your productivity and taking advantage of those ‘dead moments’ throughout your day. Let’s be honest, you can only study a maximum of a few tens of cards at once before your head explodes, so you won’t need to carry them all with you anyway.
- Student consult - Who doesn’t like extra ‘freebies’ like an electronic format of the flash cards and additional MCQs that you can use to quiz yourself? It’s a no brainer!
- Durable and sturdy - The quality of ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’ is not only evident in its content, but it is also reflected in the quality of the cards themselves. They are laminated and feel extremely sturdy, surviving any coffee spills during those exhausting mornings before exams and during those long commutes when they are shoved in your bag.
- Time consuming and daunting - These flash cards are not for the faint of heart! The sheer amount of details and information included on each of them can suck the life out of any anatomy veteran, nevermind a student. As the name suggests, flash cards should be studied in a ‘flash’ and follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle - you see the question or the image, turn it around and boom, you see a clear and simple answer. Essentially, each card should deal with one single fact (check out the golden principles of flash card making in this article). Otherwise it is similar to reading a textbook - something you definitely don’t want when buying a collection of flash cards. This brings us to the next problem...
- Don’t accomplish their purpose - Spending money on a product that tries to solve a problem and then failing to accomplish it doesn’t sound like a good deal at all! The sheer amount of information found on the cards equals wasted time, decreased productivity, and retention difficulty. Your anatomy textbook already comes with those three problems, so you certainly don’t need even more of the same work on your hands!
- Hints in the titles - Science tells us that testing yourself without any hints or peeking is the best method for retaining and consolidating knowledge. The problem with ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’ is that certain titles and labels on the front give hints to what the answer might be. For instance, a view of the knee titled ‘Knee: Cruciate and Collateral Ligaments’ can only mean that the labels are pointing to those respective anatomical features. Similarly, if a single muscle is pointed at in an illustration labelled ‘supination’, it is a pretty big hint that the muscle shown is the supinator.
- Illustrations are not realistic - Ok, Netter’s illustrations are definitely top-class, otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular. However, they mostly depict this utopic anatomic specimen that simply doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. A lot of times, there are huge discrepancies between the illustrations and cadaveric specimens. Many times, students cannot even find the structures in the locations they are indicated in by the images. A lot of medical schools carry out their anatomy exams by asking students to name and describe structures on a cadaver, so it’s a lot more common than you might think. Not only that, but even the colours don’t really match either. What does this mean? You need to get your hands on more textbooks, more resources, a cadaveric atlas, and much more, otherwise known as: additional expenses.
- Confused hybrid - Although ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards’ are marketed as being a mere supplement to your daily caloric anatomy needs offered by your atlas or textbook, it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you look at the lengthy information written on the back of the cards. The collection tries to be both an atlas and a textbook, in the end being neither and only doing a mediocre job at being both. There are only a chosen selection of illustrations and labels from Netter’s Human Anatomy Atlas, which can be a bit worrying. How was the choice made? Who decides what’s important enough to be turned into a flash card? Surely, isn’t all anatomy interconnected and you need to know everything to understand it fully? What if my professor expects more during my next upcoming anatomy exam? Because of that, some sections definitely feel too short compared to the original atlas - can you understand and learn the anatomy of the entire thorax from 26 images easily and effectively? We don’t think so…
- Small size - Take a card about the size of your palm and start filling it with labels, detailed illustrations, and as much information on the back as possible. What is the result? Something that can easily fit in your pocket or purse, that’s true, but also a sense of confusion, lack of clarity, and general frustration trying to differentiate structures from one another. High definition does come at a price of portability, but it’s not a gamble that you should take lightly.
- Organized by regions - While a product can’t please absolutely everyone, it should cater to the majority of the audience. As the flashcards are organised by regions, the students learning anatomy by systems are automatically alienated. This method is not a minority by any stretch of the imagination because a lot of anatomy courses are integrated with physiology, making it a necessity to teach by systems. What happens if you need to learn all the bones or the nerves, for instance? You have to root through all the flash cards and pick them out one by one, and many illustrations also depict mixed terms, too. All of this means only one thing - a tremendous headache and a direct hit to your anatomy enthusiasm.
Master your weak spots and speed up your learning with these flashcard-style quizzes!
Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards vs. Kenhub
As you can see, ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’ have their pros and cons. On one hand they have a solid illustration basis, are portable, and the knowledge is organized intelligently, being connected with more detailed images from ‘Netter’s Human Anatomy Atlas’. On the other hand, the collection is scarily complex in terms of the amount of information included, the images are not the most realistic, their aims feel unorganised, and the cards are organized by regions, to name a few. As a result, they are far from being the best resource.
What other options do you have? If you decide to start learning anatomy using Kenhub, you will get your hands on several additional learning methods that will make your learning as easy and enjoyable as possible. If you want to dig into the complex details of a topic, pick one of the articles listed under each study unit. Alternatively, you can watch one of our anatomy tutors explain the topic in one of our videos from the comfort of your own chair. Or better yet, if you want to see the structure from different angles you can check our atlas, and if you want to see how well you know the flashcards (and not only), you can attempt one of the quizzes! By the way, they use spaced repetition, the best tried and tested study method backed by science. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up now and get your hands on all of them!
So, there you go, a detailed review of the good, the bad, and the ugly of ‘Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards 4th Edition’. They are certainly not the worst anatomy learning resource out there, but there are certainly more modern and carefully organised methods that you can use instead. At the end of the day, you need to sit down and decide what you want a specific learning resource to help you with and then start using it. Don’t fall into the trap of constantly changing them, hoping you will reach perfection. There is no perfect anatomy learning resource, only the one that suits you the best! We hope this review clarified some of your confusions and helped you in making a decision. Good luck!
Strengths of 'Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards':
- The classic Netter illustrations, which are clear, artistic, and accurate
- Good organization of information into sections: term names, comments, and clinical information
- When it comes to muscles, there is only one muscle per card
- Flash cards and atlas plates are connected, allowing you to directly jump to related illustrations and view the structures from different angles
- Fully portable, ready to be studied anytime and anywhere
- Student consult offering you additional resources, such as MCQs and an electronic format
- Durable and sturdy
Weaknesses of 'Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards':
- The sheer amount of information makes those flash cards daunting and time consuming
- The hints in the titles of several cards certainly don't help your learning in the long-term
- The utopic and 'perfect' illustrations force you to buy additional resources, textbooks, and cadaveric atlases
- Those flash cards try to be a hybrid between a textbook and an atlas, in the end doing only a mediocre job at being both
- Being as small as your palm makes them confusing, unclear, and frustrating when trying to distinguish the details
- Organized by regions, an approach used by a lot of medical schools.