Medical Science Educator

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 101–111 | Cite as

A Quantitative Analysis of Four Undergraduate Human Anatomy Laboratory Curricula: Approaches, Identified Structures, Concepts, and Thematic Emphases

  • Ann Marie Sparacino
  • Victor H. GonzalezEmail author
  • Sue Ball
  • Joanna J. Cielocha
  • Katharine Helm
  • David S. McLeod
Original Research


Human anatomy is a foundational course thatserves diverse pre-professional health care majors. However, limited information is available on the teaching approaches, content, and thematic emphases of this course at the undergraduate level when compared with that of medical and other graduate schools. Herein, we document and quantitatively evaluate the laboratory curriculum of four undergraduate human anatomy courses in the USA. For each course, we assess the total number of structures (terms requiring identification during an exam), concepts (terms requiring an explanation), and clinical applications. To facilitate further assessments, we also compare the content distribution of each course with that recommended by the American Association of Clinical Anatomists (AACA). Two courses followed a regional approach emphasizing the use of human cadavers, while the other two followed a system-based approach and used plastic models and non-human cadaveric materials (e.g., cats and sheep). The total amount of information presented to students differed significantly among curricula. The majority of terms (65–88%) taught to students referred to the identification of anatomical structures whereas clinical applications were rare (< 1.3%). Courses using a regional approach expected students to learn as much as twice the number of terms than those following a system-based approach. Functions, innervations, origins, and insertions of muscles are only included in the curriculum of the courses following a regional approach. The proportion of terms devoted to each anatomical module in all curricula was significantly different from each other, as well as from that of AACA recommendation. We discuss these differences in the curriculum, the challenges and limitations inherent with each teaching approach, as well as in the teaching materials used among the curricula. These quantitative analyses aim to provide insightful information about the structure of the undergraduate human anatomy laboratory curriculum and may prove useful when redesigning a course.


Human anatomy curriculum Quantitative analysis Undergraduate education 



The authors would like to thank G. Burg, M. Gabriel, P. Kilkenny, D. Strong, Amy Comfort, and anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions that improve this work. All authors have read and accepted the final draft of the manuscript. JJC wishes to thank J. Hnida, MidWestern University, Glendale, Arizona for providing laboratory materials used at PSC. Partial support to V.H.G. was received through a NSF’s REU program (DBI 1560389).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Medical Science Educators 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Undergraduate Biology ProgramUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Biological SciencesSouthwestern Oklahoma State UniversityWeatherfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyRockhurst UniversityKansas CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of Health SciencesJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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