Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 153–165 | Cite as

The anatomy of learning anatomy

  • Niklas Wilhelmsson
  • Lars Owe Dahlgren
  • Håkan Hult
  • Max Scheja
  • Kirsti Lonka
  • Anna Josephson
Original Paper


The experience of clinical teachers as well as research results about senior medical students’ understanding of basic science concepts has much been debated. To gain a better understanding about how this knowledge-transformation is managed by medical students, this work aims at investigating their ways of setting about learning anatomy. Second-year medical students were interviewed with a focus on their approach to learning and their way of organizing their studies in anatomy. Phenomenographic analysis of the interviews was performed in 2007 to explore the complex field of learning anatomy. Subjects were found to hold conceptions of a dual notion of the field of anatomy and the interplay between details and wholes permeated their ways of studying with an obvious endeavor of understanding anatomy in terms of connectedness and meaning. The students’ ways of approaching the learning task was characterized by three categories of description; the subjects experienced their anatomy studies as memorizing, contextualizing or experiencing. The study reveals aspects of learning anatomy indicating a deficit in meaningfulness. Variation in approach to learning and contextualization of anatomy are suggested as key-elements in how the students arrive at understanding. This should be acknowledged through careful variation of the integration of anatomy in future design of medical curricula.


Student learning Basic science knowledge Phenomenography Anatomy Approaches to learning 



This research was founded by grant no. 2002-3247 from the Swedish Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niklas Wilhelmsson
    • 1
  • Lars Owe Dahlgren
    • 1
    • 2
  • Håkan Hult
    • 1
    • 2
  • Max Scheja
    • 3
  • Kirsti Lonka
    • 1
    • 4
  • Anna Josephson
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and EthicsKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of Behavioural Science and LearningUniversity of LinköpingLinköpingSweden
  3. 3.Department of EducationStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  4. 4.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  5. 5.Department of NeuroscienceKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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