Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases by Hal Blumenfeld: Review
If you are reading this review, you are more likely than not learning neuroanatomy and are trying to see if ‘Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases’ by Hal Blumenfeld can help you synapse all this information together and navigate this maze.
Despite having a root word that screams visualization (neuroANATOMY), this subject is not exactly that. It’s true, you can see features of the brain, the cerebellum, spinal cord, their vasculature and so on in front of your eyes, but what about the more indistinct features like tracts, pathways and even neurons? Just thinking about it makes your brain zoom into a class full of students blankly nodding their heads in agreement as their professor traces a so called tract on a model which everyone agrees is just a figment of his, or her, imagination.
So, what lifejacket do you need to stay afloat? You need a “comprehensive introductory textbook, [...] aimed at medical students learning neuroanatomy, [...] which is well written and concise”. Luckily, according to Dr. Marfeo from Harvard University, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’ fits this description to a T, as he described in this review. However, while the above adjectives describe this textbook quite well, there are some aspects which you might want to consider before buying it and this article aims to present both sides of the coin.
- Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases: Second edition
- Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases vs. Kenhub
Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases: Second edition
Published by ‘Sinauer Associates, Inc. Publishers Sunderland, Massachusetts’, this textbook has clarified the intricacies of the nervous system ever since 2002, with the appearance of the first edition. The latest edition is the second one, which hit the shelves in 2010. Don’t let the age fool you, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ is as up-to-date as ever, both in its fundamentals, but especially in its specific teaching approach - the use of clinical cases - which are its bread and butter.
The brains behind this approach is Dr. Hal Blumenfeld, a neurology, neuroscience and neurosurgery expert from Yale University. Being at the forefront of neuroscience research and medicine in such a prestigious university is no easy feat, so you can rest assured that the quality and accuracy of the content in this textbook are top-notch.
From glancing at the table of contents, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’ is not your typical medical textbook. It consists of 19 chapters in total, which can be arbitrarily divided into two ‘units’ based on the covered material, as follows:
- Introductory material
- Chapter 1 - General outline and presentation of clinical cases
- Chapter 2 - Overview of neuroanatomy and structures
- Chapter 3 - Neurological examination
- Chapter 4 - Clinical neuroradiology
- Chapters 5 to 19 - Each chapter focuses on a particular neuroanatomical structure/pathway
In addition, each chapter from the neuroanatomy ‘unit’ is split up into three parts and follows the common structure given below:
- Anatomical review - description of the respective structures and pathways
- Clinical concepts - common disorders of the system being discussed
- Clinical cases - clinical cases of real patients observed by Hal Blumenfeld
As you can see, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ is a top quality neuroanatomy learning toolbox. It provides you not only with the tools (introductory material), but also what they mean, how they all fit together (anatomical reviews) and what can go wrong along the way using real-life incidents (clinical concepts and cases). Neuroanatomy can quickly become quite tedious and abstract if the subject is merely shown or read out to you, but through the heavy use of patient cases, this textbook avoids the boredom by providing you with the much needed clinical touch that neuroanatomy desperately needs.
Each case is followed by a discussion that explains the most important aspects of the case, links to relevant clinical concepts, and a differential diagnosis. Next, each discussion is followed by a clinical course that describes in detail the history, signs and symptoms, examination results, imaging, evolution, and management of the respective condition. As you can see, those cases are not just typical examples or used for illustration purposes - a method used by a variety of textbooks. Instead, they are explaining what you’ll be faced with in real-life, therefore preparing you for the unexpected.
‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’ has also kept up with the technological era, coming in many various formats. The paperback version retails anywhere from approximately $50 USD all the way to $98 USD, depending on the quality of the book (new or used) together with temporarily offered discounts. If you’re a fan of learning on the go, this textbook has got you covered. It is also available as an eBook (.pdf, .epub, and similar formats), ready to be opened and ploughed through on those monotonous daily bus rides.
If you get your hands on ‘‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ you don’t only end up with the product, but also some ‘behind the scenes’ content. That’s right, the textbook comes with additional online resources that can help you to squeeze every last drop of possible learning out of it. Online access comes with videos showcasing the neurological exam, together with extra clinical cases, images, questions and answers which are ready to provide you with even more information and really test your newly acquired knowledge.
- Review boxes - Inside green coloured boxes on the margin, you can find review exercises that push your learning even further by making it an active process (passive studying is a big no-no, especially with a subject like neuroanatomy). By prompting you to hide and recite column tables, asking you review questions, or encourage you to colour specific anatomical structures, these tables make the perfect companions. It feels like having a teacher constantly by your side that actually likes you and doesn’t give you low grades. What a fairytale…
- Mnemonics - These are really a health science student’s best friends, and guess what? In this book they are right in your face, coming at you with full lights and sirens blaring. Lines like ‘DAM I AM Piss Drunk But Stupid Drunk I Prefer, Must Phone Alcoholics Anonymous’ sound a lot more manageable than arbitrarily listing all thirteen branches of the maxillary artery, right? Mnemonics are all about condensing long paragraphs and lists into personal and funny statements (dad jokes are allowed too), so make the most of them!
- Summary boxes - Who doesn’t want short, effective and snappy boxes containing only the most important, high-yield information from each chapter? I’ll take the whole lot, thank you very much!
- Neuroradiological atlas - Quite unique to ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ is the neuroradiological atlas found in chapter 4. Not a lot of anatomy or neuroanatomy textbooks, if any, have an atlas incorporated into them. Full of angiographies, CT and MRI images, this atlas works in conjunction with the other textbook simulations to show you the nervous system from every angle!
- Clinical focus - The bread and butter, icing on the cake, cherry on top, whatever you want to call them, but the clinical cases and concepts are what make this textbook so worthwhile. Linked and organised in the most logical way, they avoid “should’ves”, “could’ves”, and “would’ves” type lists, providing you with relevant and specific pathologies that affect real patients.
- Online resources - It’s a no-brainer, the more “extras” you obtain with a product, the happier you are, right? With the money you pay for the textbook, you also receive online access to extra videos, clinical cases, images, and reviews, so take advantage of them!
‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’ is a great and unique resource to learn neuroanatomy, but it’s certainly far from perfect:
- Price - To get your hands on a brand new and sparkling second edition, you will need to reach quite deep in your pocket. The sum of around $98 dollars is definitely not something to turn your back on and compared to its competitors, this textbook is quite pricey. Also, what happens if you don’t like the book after purchasing it? You can definitely forget about ‘free trials’ when it comes to published materials... (hint, hint: digital platforms are the way forwards ;))
- Access to resources - The online resources are a mixed bag, as they are both useful and useless. How is this possible? They are definitely impressive and useful learning tools, but only as long as you buy the book, otherwise they are just a fantasy.
- Limited review/testing - Have you heard the saying that “too much of anything is bad for you”? The heavy focus on clinical cases and imaging can be beneficial, but it can feel like riding a horse with blinkers - it can only see forward, with no other perspective. Similarly, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ lacks powerful review questions and testing ability. The review boxes are few and far between and if you practice the online review questions several times, you can start to recognise the right answers, rather than think through them, because the test bank is quite limited. Unfortunately, testing yourself is the best method for long term retention because it uses active recall, so with this book, you need additional resources or to create your own quizzes.
- Limited illustrations - As you read through the chapters explaining the intricate anatomy of the nervous system, it feels that many times the illustrations are lacking clarity. Sometimes there are important views missing, other times only radiological images are present, and other times the drawings themselves are hard to distinguish because many of them are black and white. You definitely need an accompanying atlas, which means even more money and weight hanging from your shoulders, literally.
- Big, thick and heavy - There is a running joke amongst health science students that if you need two hands to pick up a book, then the course itself will be challenging. Both of these aspects are true when it comes to neuroanatomy. The book itself consists of approximately 1006 pages, weighs 2 kgs, and it is almost the size of an A4 page. You definitely need two hands and Superman’s back to carry this around daily.
- Textbook - Thanks to Captain Obvious, you can no doubt see that ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’ is... a textbook. However, this term comes together with a few ‘synonyms’, like reading, long hours, many words, and lengthy paragraphs, to name a few. If you take all of those aspects and put them together, you can end up with blocks of text, very few illustrations, and long hours, also known as a nightmare. An example about the cerebellum is shown below:
Quite an ugly sight, isn’t it? Luckily, the above situation can be avoided if you transform it into a visual and auditory medium, otherwise known as a video. Wouldn’t you like to learn everything about the cerebellum by watching a video while sitting comfortably in your chair and not straining your eyes? Just take a look below and decide for yourself:
Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases vs. Kenhub
As you can see so far, ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases 2nd edition’ comes in a mixed bag. It is definitely a useful learning resource worthy of a place in your own personal library, but at the same time it has some limitations that you should consider.
Fortunately, there are many other resources available, One such option is Kenhub, a digital and online platform that can offer you alternative learning methods to spice up your studying and prevent boredom. It even teaches you how to do it properly. Here’s how Kenhub compares to ‘Neuroanatomy through clinical cases’:
Using Kenhub allows you to kill two birds with one stone. By taking advantage of the variety of learning methods offered, you receive all the explanations and descriptions about your favourite anatomical structures, preventing boredom. You can either read the articles until your brain becomes numb, or switch it up and watch the videos for a more visual approach. Don’t forget though that after a while you need to apply the knowledge and test yourself as much as possible. Have you heard that the quizzes offered by Kenhub are organized into four levels of difficulty and can be customized to match your personal learning objectives? They also use spaced repetition, the most effective, scientifically proven way to retain information long-term - so what are you waiting for?! Go and try it out now!
In the end, you can keep searching for the perfect anatomy learning resource and never arrive at a definite conclusion. The important part is that you try out various study strategies in order to discover what’s best for you in the long run. Every individual is different and you will only succeed if you are equipped not with the best item, but with the right one for you.
Strengths of 'Neuroanatomy through clinical cases':
- Review boxes located along the way to test you and also guide you
- Mnemonics to help you learn faster
- Summary boxes for high yield information
- Neuroradiological atlas
- Heavy clinical focus
- Additional online resources
Weaknesses of 'Neuroanatomy through clinical cases':
- Access to resources requires you to buy the book
- Limited ability to review or test yourself
- Limited views and illustration types
- Big, thick, and heavy
Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases by Hal Blumenfeld: Review: want to learn more about it?
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Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver