3. Do not lose the bones!


In anatomy lab, the first thing you study is the human skeleton. Studying bones before the actual dissection is common in every anatomy course. Bones or the skeletal system is comparable to the steel frame of a building. Just as a building is constructed by attaching concrete to the steel frame, the body is composed of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves attached to the framework of the skeletal system.

You can get lots of information from examining the bones closely. A rough surface or a projected part of a bone indicates that muscle was attached there and pulled the bone when it contracted. Such knowledge of those markings helps you understand the function of attached muscles. You can also infer the movement of a joint from the shape of articular surfaces of bones. In the shoulder joint, the round head of humerus fits within the cup-shaped depression in scapula. Such ball-and-socket shape of the joint allows the greatest range of motion. There are lots of openings in the skull. It means numerous blood vessels and nerves pass through those foramina. To become a doctor, memorizing those connections in and out of the brain would be necessary.


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An anatomy technician prepares the bones before students examine them. He sorts out the bones from an already dissected body and boils them in water to get bones clean without flesh. Some schools take more nature-friendly approach by burying the bones and let the insects and microorganism do the job. It is not hard to find excavated bones displayed in a natural history museum, but they are not in good condition like the ones in an anatomy lab. This is because the acidic components of soil weakens the bones and destroys them.


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You may have seen an assembled skeleton in an anatomy lab. However, individual bones are more suitable for study purpose because you can hold a bone in your hand and observe it from various angles. After observation, bones including the skull, vertebrae, ribs, sternum, and bones of upper and lower limbs should be arranged in a proper order. Sometimes a mischievous student arranges them like a body from a crime scene. One time, it was so realistic that I had an irresistible impulse to set up a police line.




Accidents happen in an anatomy lab. After an anatomy class, one study group reported that a rib was missing. The professor was enraged. If you cant find it, you should replace it with your own rib! Fortunately, the rib was found. It turned out that another study group borrowed it without notice and forgot to return it.

According to the Act of Corpse Dissection and Preservation, cadaver dissection is allowed only in the anatomy lab. Violators are fined under $3,000 or imprisoned for up to one year. Taking bones out of an anatomy lab is also illegal. In the past, students used to steal bones, especially the skull to teach osteology to lower grade students. Fortunately, no one steals bones nowadays because replica bones are just as good as the real ones. Orthopedic surgeons used to ask anatomists for extremity bones. The enquiries stopped, since very high quality replicas are now available.

I learned anatomy in the 1980s, and Korean style pork back-bone stew was my favorite food back then. The pork back-bone stew was cheap, which made it the most popular menu among my colleagues. Medical students have much to say when eating pork back-bone stew, because the porcine vertebrae are very similar to those of human. Student would identify various structures of vertebra and have numerous discussions before eating.

The first course you take in med school is anatomy and the first lesson from the anatomy course is about bones. From the perspective of an anatomist, the study of bones is the foundation of medical studies.