Should drawing be incorporated into the teaching of anatomy?


Mimi R. Borrelli, Billy Leung, Michael C. B. Morgan, Shobhit Saxena, Alistair Hunter

Introduction: Art has played a pivotal role in the understanding and teaching of human anatomy for centuries, and the use of drawing as a teaching tool had been well documented. With the global modernization of medical education, the teaching of anatomy has diminished. We present a model of teaching anatomy through drawing, and assess its efficacy in improving students’ retention of anatomical knowledge. Methods: We designed a series of four anatomy drawing workshops (upper limb, lower limb, thorax, and head & neck) for students studying medicine, dentistry, and allied science degrees. Students were only allowed to attend one of the four workshops. Workshops were delivered by medically-qualified anatomy demonstrators using a combination of “whiteboard drawing demonstrations” and “cadaveric demonstrations and drawings.” A pre- and post-anatomy test consisting of 12 multiple choice questions (MCQs) and quantitative self-score questionnaires on “confidence in drawing anatomy” and “anatomical knowledge” were completed. Qualitative questionnaires on “reasons for attendance,” “skills learnt,” and “what improvements could be made” were also completed. Results: A total of 49 students attended the drawing workshops, the majority studied medicine (58.3%). Twenty-seven pre- and post-anatomy MCQ tests were completed, and demonstrated a significant mean improvement of 1.11 points (p = 0.001). “Confidence in drawing anatomy” and “Knowledge of anatomy” significantly improved by 43.2% and 41.4% (p = 0.001), respectively. Only 13% of students used drawing as their “main learning tool.” The most commonly reported barrier in using drawing as a revision tool was “time constraints.” Qualitative feedback was excellent. Students suggested that these workshops should be integrated into the core anatomy curriculum. Conclusion: Learning anatomy through drawing, is not only more engaging and fun, encourages students to visualize and better understand anatomical planes, thus, allowing them to retain anatomical knowledge easier. The two-part nature of our sessions enabled students to apply and translate the more conceptual knowledge from the “whiteboard drawing demonstration” onto the more “real-life” structures in the “prosection and cadaveric demonstration.” With the decline in anatomy teaching throughout universities, most prominently dissection, drawing may offer an alternative and economical way of training students to learn anatomy.