Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy: Review
To My Students—Past, Present, and Future
This book is designed so that the information is presented without masses of confusing detail involving complicated neural connections. The arrangement permits the students and future health providers to quickly recall the essential features necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. - Richard S. Snell
The minute you see this message in the inside cover of a neuroanatomy textbook you realize that you hit jackpot. No wonder ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy’ is one of the world's most popular neuroanatomy books for health science students.
Teaching a subject like neuroanatomy is no easy feat - the subject itself is quite a nightmare to understand and quite frankly, very few learning resources successfully rise to the challenge. However, through the use of several intelligent tactics that simplify this dreaded subject, 'Snell's Clinical Neuroanatomy' has managed to climb close to the top and assert itself as one of the most sought after neuroanatomy learning resources.
|Pros||An atlas of the brain, chapter objectives, schematic illustrations, clinical boxes, MCQs and clinical problems with explanations, 450 USMLE-style review questions online|
|Cons||Confusing illustrations, limited number of real human brains and sections, non-customizable self-assessments, very limited online resources, being a textbook (big, thick, heavy, boring)|
In this article, we’ll take a look at the brains behind this textbook (pun intended), explore its thought process and highlight any perceived shortcomings. Prepare to put your objective thinking cap on - it’s time to weigh out the pros and cons and decide for yourself whether this textbook is the one for you.
- Snell's Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition
Snell's Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition
Published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, the current and latest edition of ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy’ at the time of writing this review is the seventh one, which has been on library shelves since 2009. Honestly, this is quite a long time not to update a textbook. The fact that professors and students haven’t been deterred from it, then, is a true testament of its worth.
The author himself also magnifies the book’s reputation - that is, the fact that is was written by physician Richard S. Snell, a man with a proven track record of teaching in the world’s most prestigious universities. Not to mention, an entire collection of titles attributed to his name. Quite simply, any doubt about the accuracy and quality of the information found in ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition’ can be thrown out of the window.
When it comes to format, this textbook has a unique layout in comparison to your typical medical textbook:
- Color atlas of the brain - a labelled image collection of real human brains and various sections, depicting important anatomical landmarks and structures
- Chapter 1 - general organization of the nervous system
- Chapter 2 - the neurobiology of the neuron as a cell
- Chapter 3 - structure, characteristics, and organization of the nerve fibers
- Chapters 4 - 16 - one neuroanatomy region or structure explained in detail in each chapter
- Chapter 17 - the blood supply of the central nervous system
- Chapter 18 - the development of the nervous system (which a lot of textbooks leave out!)
- Neuroanatomical aspects of clinical significance - various interventions and tests routinely performed in clinics are explained
In addition, all chapters closely resemble one another, having a somewhat specific and atypical organization, as follows:
- Clinical case - serving as an introduction and linking all the knowledge in that respective chapter
- Chapter objectives - what you will accomplish in each chapter
- Explanations and theory - organized into sections and filled with illustrations
- Clinical notes section - signs, symptoms, tests, and diagnosis of common neuroanatomical conditions
- Clinical problem solving section - a list of clinical problems for you to tackle and test your understanding (answers are also provided)
- Review questions - even more MCQs to assess yourself, which also have associated answers
As you can see, the author and editors have really gone all out to compartmentalize this book as efficiently as possible. In doing so, they’ve created a thorough neuroanatomy encyclopedia suitable for every level.
Similar to its competitors and ordinary medical textbooks, the physical copy of ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition’ that you see stacked on library shelves and on top of cupboards is only half the story. That one is the paperback version, which has a retail value of approximately $85 USD if bought new. However, prices can be lower depending on available limited-time discounts or offers.
The other side of the story is the electronic eBook format, which makes it portable and instantly accessible using just a few taps or clicks. Therefore, you get the best of both worlds - a heavy duty study resource at home, and a quick reference or review on the-go!
If you are a dedicated learner or an anatomy enthusiast, and the MCQs and self-assessment at the end of every chapter are insufficient for you, don’t worry! This textbook comes with its own online version of a ‘Student’s consult’, offering you not only the electronic version, but also an additional 450 USMLE-style review questions with answers and explanations to test your knowledge even more and clarify any problems. That averages to another 25 questions and clarifications for each chapter. Say hello to neuroanatomy mastery!
- Color atlas of the brain - Located at the very beginning of the book, a colour atlas of the brain and its sections - almost as if to whet your appetite for the content to come - can be found. It shows the brain from every anatomical angle, helping you to ward off that dreaded “confused and in over your head” feeling.
- Chapter objectives - Although they might not feel extremely important, the objectives found at the beginning of each chapter are a unique and tremendously beneficial feature of this textbook. They can guide you on what aspects you should focus on (just a little tip - your professor will also focus on those, too) and provide you with a tool to test yourself. If you can write down a comprehensive answer for each objective, it means that you know the subject matter!
- Schematic illustrations - ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy’ doesn’t just succeed in simplifying neuroanatomy by eliminating confusing details. It also does it through its illustrations. Focusing on drawn schematics and diagrams, learning feels less scary and concepts are depicted more clearly because the sketches are specifically drawn to fit the purpose whilst remaining devoid of clutter. All those horrifying spinal cord tracts start to look a lot easier, trust us!
- Clinical notes - Out of the entire realm of anatomy topics, neuroanatomy can feel very abstract and alienating simply because, apart from the brain, it is more difficult to visualize compared to blood vessels, nerves, or organs. The nerve fibers and tracts are so small that you feel like an utter liar when you reply “yes” in response to your professor’s question of whether you can see it. Therefore, putting neuroanatomy into a clinical perspective is even more crucial as it acts to make it more tangible. Fortunately, the author has not only understood this aspect, but also embraced it, almost drowning you with clinical knowledge - everything from signs and symptoms to interventions and techniques are covered in this textbook!
- MCQs & clinical problems with explanations - Exactly, you read that right. ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition’ doesn’t only contain review questions and clinical scenarios for you to test your knowledge, but also detailed answers to each and every one of them. The best learning happens from your mistakes, so having those clarifications following each answer is a godsend. You know what you got wrong without having to turn a single page and root through mounds of text to figure out why. It’s the dream!
- Additional resources - In addition to the paperback, you also receive an electronic, online version of it that you can carry in your back pocket and 450 additional USMLE-style review questions. What’s not to like?
- Illustrations - We’ve said that diagrams are good for understanding purposes, but there is a catch - only some of them are, and only some of the time. Since they are sketched, many of them can be quite confusing to get your head around and actually impede your understanding rather than help you. You certainly don’t want that to happen when learning about the extremely confusing basal ganglia. On top of that, with the exception of the atlas which consists of a limited number of illustrations, there are very few real human brains and sections presented throughout the book, forcing you to buy an additional neuroanatomy atlas (in other words, more expenses and a heavier backpack).
- Self-assessments not customizable - Having review and clinical questions at the end of chapters is indeed beneficial, but what do you do after you have completed them? They are not customizable, they are not adaptable to your level, and their number is limited (50-60 questions for a topic like the cerebrum or the cerebellum is nothing). This only means one thing - after answering one question you can toss it in the thrash and forget about it because if you revisit it a second time, you will still remember parts of your answer no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
- Access to resources - Extra resources are always a plus, but without purchasing the book, you cannot access them. In this way, they are basically non existent.
- Limited online resources - The top academic textbooks really go out of their way to increase their appeal towards anatomy enthusiasts by offering them as many ‘freebies’ as possible. For instance, look at ‘Netter’s Anatomy Atlas’ and its ‘Student consult’ and you’ll understand what we mean. Unfortunately, ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy’ doesn’t make itself stand out at all - no virtual atlas, no videos, no study methods, no interactive labelling, and so on. It does have online MCQs and an electronic format, but in today’s fierce competition, those are so ordinary that all textbooks offer them as standard.
- Big, thick, heavy, and boring - Since the paperback version is the most popular version of this textbook, this description should not surprise you. This book weighs around 1 kg, has 560 pages, and is the size of an A4 sheet of paper, so it’s not an item that lends itself to portability. Combined with the fact that textbooks are boring by nature, you are investing tens of dollars into something that will bring you a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition’ vs. Kenhub
As you can see, ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy’ has two sides to it, but luckily for you there are slightly more pros than cons. Effectiveness should have been expected with a survival time of almost a decade without any updating. It has a unique method of teaching neuroanatomy by employing several strategies like a color atlas, chapter objectives, sketched diagrams, together with review questions and clinical scenarios that are actually answered and contain a lot of clarifications.
However, ‘all that glitters is not gold; often have you heard that told’ so perhaps it would be beneficial for you to try other cheaper and more interesting learning resources before investing in this textbook. What other choices are there? If you want a modern approach to learning neuroanatomy, Kenhub would be a good starting point. Here's how these two learning resources fare against one another:
All these ways to learn neuroanatomy (and much more!) packed into an online platform? Yes indeed, this is real. Neuroanatomy is as difficult as it gets, so using more than one learning method as with Kenhub definitely has its perks. Reading an article about the ascending and descending tracts of the spinal cord is definitely good, but doesn’t it sound easier for someone to explain and trace all those pesky tracts and fibers for you in a course with videos and quizzes?? You can even have a look through the atlas at your favourite neuroanatomy structure and see how it looks like not only theoretically, but also in a real human body MRI or CT scan.
When studying, the last and most important step for retention is to apply the knowledge and retrieve it from memory, according to science. What better way to do that than to attempt one of our quizzes and see how much you know? They can adapt to your level of knowledge and also use spaced repetition, a tried and tested study method. By the way, all of the above features become instantly available to you and your fingertips within seconds of signing up. So, what are you waiting for - try it out and see for yourself how easy anatomy learning can really be!
So, there you go, another possible learning resource. We’re not saying that ‘Snell’s Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th Edition’ is the be all and end all, but it certainly does a pretty good job of teaching neuroanatomy. If you’re looking for a magic resource that will solve all your problems, though, forget it - every single one has its limitations. The important thing for you is to try out as many as possible (preferably without emptying your bank account!) and then pick the one that suits you, and stick to it. We hope we made your choice a little bit easier with this review. Good luck with your studies!
Strengths of 'Snell's Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th edition':
- A labelled and color atlas of the brain and its sections
- Chapter objectives ready to guide you towards the most important aspects of the chapter
- Schematic illustrations specifically drawn to simplify neuroanatomy
- Clinical notes that put the subject into a clinical perspective
- MCQs and clinical problems with detailed explanations of the answers
- Additional online resources in the form of an interactive atlas and 450 USMLE-style review questions
Weaknesses of 'Snell's Clinical Neuroanatomy 7th edition:
- The schematic illustrations can be confusing at times
- There is a limited number of real human brains and sections presented, forcing you to buy an additional neuroanatomy atlas
- Self-assessments are not customizable, so you remember your answers if you attempt them a second time
- The additional online resources require you to buy the book in the first place
- The online resources are very limited (no virtual atlas, no videos, no study methods, no interactive labelling)
- It is a textbook, hence big, thick, heavy, and boring