What Is Anatomy?

The Study of Human Anatomy

Human Muscles Anatomy
Anatomy Artwork Showing Muscles. SCIEPRO/Getty Images

What Is Anatomy?

Anatomy is the study of the structure of living organisms. This subdiscipline of biology can be further categorized into the study of large scale anatomical structures (gross anatomy) and the study of microscopic anatomical structures (microscopic anatomy). Human anatomy deals with anatomical structures of the human body, including cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems. Anatomy is always linked to physiology, the study of how biological processes function in living organisms.

Therefore it is not enough to be able to identify a structure, its function must also be understood.

Why Study Anatomy?

The study of human anatomy gives us a better understanding of the structures of the body and how they work. When taking a basic anatomy course, your goal should be to learn and understand the structures and functions of the major body systems. It is important to remember that organ systems don't just exist as individual units. Each system depends on the others, either directly or indirectly, to keep the body functioning normally. It is also important to be able to identify the major cells, tissues, and organs being studied and to know how they function.

Anatomy Study Tips

Studying anatomy involves lots of memorization. For instance, the human body contains 206 bones and over 600 muscles. Learning these structures requires time, effort, and good memorization skills. The following tips will help make learning and memorizing body structures easier.

  • Know the Language

    The most important thing to understand when studying anatomy is the terminology. Using standard anatomical terminology ensures that anatomists have a common method of communicating to avoid confusion when identifying structures. Knowing anatomical directional terms and body planes for instance, enables you to describe the locations of structures in relation to other structures or locations in the body. Learning the common prefixes and suffixes used in anatomy and biology is also helpful. For example, if you are studying the brachiocephalic artery, you can figure out its function by knowing the affixes in the name. The affix brachio- refers to the upper arm and cephal refers to the head. If you have memorized that an artery is a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart, you can determine that the brachiocephalic artery is a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the head and arm regions of the body.
  • Use Anatomy Study Aids

    Study aids are very useful when studying anatomy. Believe it or not, anatomy coloring books are one of the best ways to learn and memorize structures and their location. The Anatomy Coloring Book is a popular choice, but other coloring books work as well. Anatomy flash cards, like Netter's Anatomy Flash Cards and Mosby's Anatomy & Physiology Study and Review Cards are recommended as well. Flash cards are valuable for reviewing information and are not meant to be a substitute for anatomy texts. Acquiring a good complementary text, such as Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy, is a must for higher level anatomy courses and those interested in or already attending medical school. These resources provide detailed illustrations and pictures of various anatomical structures.
  • Review, Review, Review

    I can't state it enough, to really make sure you comprehend the material, you must constantly review what you have learned. It is vital that you attend any and all anatomy review sessions given by your instructor. Be sure to always take practice quizzes before taking any test or quiz. Get together with a study group and quiz each other on the material. If you are taking an anatomy course with a lab, be sure that you prepare for what you are going to be studying before lab class. The main thing you want to avoid is falling behind. With the volume of information that is covered in most anatomy courses, it is important that you stay ahead and know what you need to know, before you need to know it.

    Tissues, Organs and Body Systems

    Organisms are arranged in a hierarchical structure. Cells compose tissues of the body, which can be categorized into four primary types. These tissue types are epithelial tissue, muscle tissue, connective tissue, and nervous tissue. Tissues in turn form organs of the body. Examples  of body organs include the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas, thymus, and thyroid. Organ systems are formed from groups of organs and tissues working in conjunction to perform necessary functions for the survival of the organism. Examples of organ systems include the circulatory system, digestive system, endocrine system, nervous system, lymphatic system, skeletal system, and reproductive system.