Anatomy Basics for Pre-Medical Students
Your class in Anatomy (Often paired with physiology) will examine the structure and function of the human body. We're going to focus 90% of this lecture on just anatomy with the other 10% being a very brief look at physiology.
This is a hard course. It's a lot of memorization. Furthermore, if it includes physiology then you'll also need to really understand and conceptualize the materials. However, it is also one of the most high yield of courses. You'll need to know your Anatomy and Physiology in medical school and physiology in particular is widely tested on the MCAT.
Our advice to learning Anatomy and Physiology is to break it up into discrete systems. Then do the following four questions...
The first question is all anatomy. The second and third question are all about physiology. The fourth question is part of the purpose of medical school. We're mainly going to look at questions 1 and 2.
We will briefly talk about each of these 11 systems. Since we don't want this to get too unwieldy, this will really only be the Anatomy Basics.
Not to criticize The Count, but he does leave some information out of his song that you will need for your exam. Of course you need to be able to name every bone, but that's not so hard. The naming patterns are pretty straight forward and the hardest ones to learn are always the hand, feet, and cranial bones. There's a lot more though about bones you need to know for an anatomy class. Let's list everything that is usually covered.
Use a mnemonic to help learn those hand bones! Here's a great one from Natee Jitthammachai!
Did You Know: A baby is born with 300 bones. These fuse together though and you wind up with 206 bones as an adult!
Some counts will say we have 213 bones, that's because people are counting the fused sacral and coccyx bones separately.
We've included a great physiology video above to show you how muscle's work on a tissue and molecular level. This is a neat site for visualizing muscle motion. Look for their videos on YouTube also.
Our Muscular system does a lot more then people realize. It is closely connected to our nervous system and one of the main drivers of our lymphatic system. Since this is just anatomy basics for pre-medical students and not something more in-depth, we won't go that deep today. First let's review the main topics in the muscular system.
Honestly, 1 and 2 are going to give you the most trouble. There are far more muscles then bones - about 400 more. Also their names are more confusing then bones. Plus you may need to memorize origins, insertions, actions, and innervations for each muscle. So that's about 3600 different things, if you're dead-set on memorizing everything. Fortunately you probably won't need to go that far. Let's go over some tips for learning muscle anatomy.
Below we've included some pictures of some of the more difficult muscles to learn.
The nervous system is right up there amongst the most difficult systems to learn. It's much more then knowing the names of different nerves going to muscles and organs. You really need to know what the nerves do, how they work together, and what differentiates the central vs the peripheral nervous system.
The Central Nervous System (CNS): The brain and spinal cord. As you imagine, the brain is massively complex. Many of the emergent functions in our body and functions which form our consciousness are actually bundles of nerves interacting in our CNS. These are often referred to as tracts and is a topic complicated to be many courses by itself.
The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS): All of the nerves outside of our CNS. This includes the stuff going to and from our muscles and organs. Many different disease and chronic pain states effect the PNS.
Tips for learning the Nervous System
I wish the Amoeba Sisters taught me in medical school! Watch the video above for a great review and if you like their work subscribe!
Welcome to the circulatory system! This is your body's major transportation system. Things, like hormones, platelets, oxygen, and nutrients, get places because of the circulatory system. Think of everything that is connected to your heart and bam you have it. This is all your Arteries, Veins, Capillaries, etc.
This system is often paired and taught with the respiratory system, because they really work closely together. This is the last major systems that has tons of memorization related to it. Sure you have a lot to memorize with the endocrine, reproductive, immune, etc. systems. But the sheer number of vessels is in a difficulty class all on it's own. To that effect, we recommend the following
He's no amoeba sisters, but Professor Dave is pretty awesome too! Make sure you subscribe to his channel if you like this video.
Take a deep breath. You've made it to the respiratory system. This system and the ones after it are going to get a bit shorter. Not because they're less complicated, but rather because they are less memorization intensive. Here's the big take away points...
The Digestive System: This is the most delicious of systems and deceptively complicated. Part of the problem with learning the digestive system is that our everyday language is wrong. Have you ever had a stomach ache and pointed to around your bellybutton? What even is a belly? I've never prescribed medication for a bellyache.
Let's start by following the path of food through your digestive system and talk about what happens at each step.
I used the Crash Course videos extensively as a pre-medical student and you should too. Their presentations are great and they have topics about everything! Definitely use them to prep for hard subjects and to review to make sure you really understand the material. Also I highly recommend their videos on mitosis and meiosis.
The Endocrine System is amazingly complicated. Your hormones regulate everything in your body, from your growth and maturity into an adult, to your bone density, to even how much water is in your body. After four years of pre-med and four years of medical school I often still feel like a total novice when studying it. The good news is I have some hard earned tips that I can share with you, which may make your studying easier! More good news! As an undergraduate student, you'll only need to know the basics. The really tough stuff comes with pathology and treatment of endocrine disorders, which is super complicated. The key to first studying Endocrine system is to...
If you can do all 7 of these things then you are 100% ahead of the game and should be able to handle all the endocrine questions you get. We're going to focus on 1,2,6,&7 right now.
For this lesson on Endocrine Basics, I just want you to focus on the Anterior Pituitary, Posterior Pituitary, Thyroid, and Adrenal Glands. There are more hormone releasing endocrine glands, but we don't want to go overboard in this lesson.
To find your pituitary gland, put your finger on your nose. Now your pointing right at it. No it's not in your nose. Now take your second finger and put it on your temple. These two fingers together are pointing at the approximate location in your brain where the pituitary gland sits. People have an anterior and posterior pituitary. Let's list their hormones and what those hormones do.
Now let's move down to the Thyroid Gland. Good news! You only need to remember a few brief things about the thyroid gland. To find the thyroid, feel your neck and follow it all the way down to your clavicles. Your thyroid is shaped like two wings that surround your throat, right around the area of the clavicles and suprasternal notch.
What it Does: Think of your thyroid as the on/off switch for your metabolism. It does more then that, but metabolism is the thing I want you to associate with thyroid. TSH, a hormone we just learned about above, is the thing flicking the switch on and off. If you have problems making too little thyroid we call that hypothyroid and you tend to gain weight, feel cold, fatigued, and overall pretty lousy. If you have problems making too much thyroid we call that hyperthyroid, and you get the opposite effects - you lose weight, feel hot, but also fatigued and lousy (because your body is in hyperdrive). It's a pretty common problem and doctors check for it all the time.
The Adrenal Glands are the last system we'll cover in this lecture. As you can see from the picture above, your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys like little hats. This puts them in a really good place to dump hormones into your blood stream. You're probably familiar with adrenaline which comes from the center, or cortex, of the gland. However it also produces 3 other hormones. Let's go over a hormone from each section, based on the location - working outside to inside.
Notice that these hormones act throughout the body? That's part of the benefit of them being on the kidneys. They can get into the bloodstream fast and go all over the place!
The Renal System is also very complicated. We won't even try to go into all of the details that it's due. Instead we'll just cover some study tips for organizing how to approach the study of the Renal System. You want to organize your studying around the following 3 things.
And, for a basic review, that's about it. Of course, like I said at the start, the actual renal system is very complicated. When you study it in depth you'll not only be learning about function and anatomy, but you'll also be learning about how the renal system, the endocrine system, and the cardiovascular system all work together to maintain homeostasis. It's actually incredibly complex and the source of many different diseases.
You get two systems for one in this section! Welcome to reproductive anatomy and physiology. Honestly, the anatomy part isn't too had here. What'll trip you up is the physiology - especially the hormones. Reproductive systems are almost always studied with endocrine systems, because so much of the complexity of studying endocrinology comes from the reproductive system. Here's our tips.
Hahahah! I got one more Amoeba Sisters video in.
Talking about the immune system is a massive task. There's no way I can do justice to it in a basic review of anatomy and physiology. So once again, I'll just do a fly-bye, drop some essential info and facts and leave it to your classes to fill in the gaps.
Red Blood Cells vs White Blood Cells. Red's carry oxygen, white's are all about the immune system. We'll focus on the whites.
Here's a list of white blood cells (WBCs) and what they do.
The Lymphocytes are especially important and a type of WBC that we want to focus on now. As their name implies they come from lymph tissue. Ever have a doctor check for swollen lymph nodes? That doctor is checking for germinal centers pumping out lymphocytes.
There are tree types of lymphocytes. B Cells, T Cells, and Natural Killer Cells. The B cells and T cells have subtypes, but we're not going to go into that much detail today.
This is a very skinteresting topic!
Skin and the exocrine system is far more then just skin. Here are some tips on memorizing everything you need to know.
We're going to wrap up our lesson here and with the images below. We hope this was helpful!
Always work to tie new physiology you're learning back to anatomy. Also don't go too long without reviewing and refreshing your knowledge of the major stuff. What's the major stuff? Heart, CNS, PNS anatomy. Major blood vessel and nervous system branches. Circle of Willis, Hormone names and functions, hand bone, arm muscle, and leg muscle names, and a host of other important things. You'll know it's important because you'll see it over and over again. If you ever feel lost make sure to reach out for help on our activity feed!!
But never forget that we're here to help. Do you have a question about something you just read here or in our BreakThru Learner Series?
Use the BreakThru Feed to Ask and Inspire others with your questions. Our Medical Student Mentors are always here to help you, for free, anytime.
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