How "Anatomy Jane" helps you understand the human body
“Miranda: Grey, is that Anatomy Jane?
Miranda: With the 24 removable organs and the optional parts to simulate pregnancy?
Meredith: Yes” - Grey’s Anatomy
If you are interested in medicine and anatomy, you have more than likely watched the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”. If not, you have probably heard of it. Anyway, it is a medical drama series that can satisfy the appetite of any TV show addict interested in medical aspects. Despite being quite far fetched from the real world of medicine and filled to the brim with inaccuracies, it does have a toy that can help you understand the human body.
If you are not familiar with “Anatomy Jane”, it is a doll with 24 detachable organs and extra parts to simulate pregnancy. Hopefully this will not break your bubble if you are a Grey’s Anatomy enthusiast, but the actual “Anatomy Jane” does not exist. You cannot go online or into a shop and buy it. However, there are similar physical, miniature, full body models with detachable parts and organs marketed by several companies. Therefore, in this article, the term “Anatomy Jane” represents such a general miniature model. This article will discuss this learning tool and what makes it beneficial for learning anatomy.
The power of “Anatomy Jane”
In the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy”, Meredith used “Anatomy Jane” to explain an abdominal tumor to a child and her family. Can it really help you understand the human body? You might be surprised to hear that it can. After all, good things do come in small packages.
Learning by doing
Learning mostly happens when you do something while thinking about it. Aristotle once said “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”. In other words, you learn to cook by cooking, swim by swimming and removing appendices by removing appendices. Funnily enough, the more you do a particular task, the better you become at it so it seems that repetition is indeed the mother of all learning. You also learn better from your mistakes, which inevitably happen when you do a certain task. Therefore, the more you do, the more you learn.
Intellectually playing with “Anatomy Jane” is exactly learning by doing. By taking the organs out and putting them back in while thinking about their anatomical relations, positions, features and clinical points, you are understanding and learning anatomy. In fact, you might learn better than staring at a page because you are combining both theory and movement, actions and tactile feedback.
Learning by doing methods have recently been included in medical schools anatomy departments. These include handling 3D models, playing games and sketching. For instance, 80% of students taking part in a study agreed that learning anatomy concepts is easier if they simultaneously sketch while reading or thinking about them. That’s right, learning by doing is real and it actually works!
Improves visuospatial ability
This point is closely linked to “learning by doing” because it is almost impossible to separate them. As you are probably aware at this point, anatomy is a visual subject and there’s no way around that. If you are finding it hard to visualise in general, you just have to adapt but you can’t ignore it. To be proficient at anatomy you need to have a clear 3D mental representation of the human body and structures in your head. You need to be able to rotate them inside your mind’s eye and have a complete 360 degree view of what is located around each of them.
The scientific term for all of the above is visuospatial ability. Basically, this is your capacity to identify visual and spatial relations among objects. It’s your ability to realise that the liver is superior and to the right of the stomach, which in turn is anterior to the pancreas within the abdominal cavity. This might sound banal to you, but the process of getting to that realisation is very complex and poorly understood. Your visuospatial ability is comprised of two aspects: spatial visualization and spatial relation. Spatial visualization is the ability to perceive, store and manipulate mental representations. Spatial relation is the ability to rapidly and accurately rotate 2D and 3D information. These two aspects are very similar and it is difficult to draw a clear line between them and separate them completely. Numerous scientific studies have shown that you can improve your anatomy knowledge by developing your visuospatial ability.
“Anatomy Jane” can definitely improve your visuospatial ability by helping you learn 3D information, but with a twist. Rather than trying to make you a general surgeon by showing you all the little details about every organ, it simply shows you how they relate to each other - no confusion, no unnecessary details, just a single essential aspect. It gives you an anchor view which you can remember and manipulate mentally. Learning anatomy actually happens this way, similar to students who “confirmed they remembered a key view, and rotated this image to answer the questions”, according to a scientific study. You might think this is child’s play in terms of knowledge, but many 3D anatomy models try to do too many things at once (as you can see in this article, 3D models are not actually as magnificent as you might think). After all, “trying to do everything at once means doing nothing”. When you take out the heart, see a hollow space and put it back, its position and orientation between the lungs gets imprinted into your brain. When you take the stomach out, you see the pancreas directly behind it and the left kidney even deeper. This doll is an expert at making atlas sections labelled “Abdominal organs in situ” a lot more interesting and manageable.
The downside of “Anatomy Jane”
Unfortunately, the advantage of simplicity of “Anatomy Jane” is also its downside. Once you use it for a while and become extremely comfortable with the relations of organs, the model is really of little use. It offers minimal (if any) additional information, such as blood vessels or nerves. It is limited to extremely big aspects like the aorta and venae cavae because the doll is quite small for the structures to be clearly visible. Add the fact that such a model can cost in the region of several hundreds euros/dollars and you might literally buy a toy that you can throw away after you get bored of it.
Therefore, you need to combine “Anatomy Jane” with an atlas. An excellent one is offered by Kenhub. It includes the standard anatomical sections, which you can easily navigate through. It even has cross-sections to facilitate your understanding! Couple that with the videos and articles and you have the perfect study companion to your miniature, full body model. Do you want to find out more about the 3 cm plastic liver you just took out of “Anatomy Jane” and how blood gets to it to be kept alive? Check out the videos and articles!
As you can see, “Anatomy Jane” is quite a recent learning method in the realm of anatomy teaching and learning. While it has drawbacks (after all, it’s just a learning tool) it can certainly help you understand the human body, especially if combined with more traditional methods of studying.