30. It is okay to be ugly.


Everyone has different faces, and different finger prints. They also have different iris and different superficial veins, which can be used to distinguish individuals. If you dissect a cadaver, you notice that the structures differ from person to person as well. For example, an artery may bifurcate or trifurcate in a person.




This phenomenon of having different internal/external structures is called variation. Variation means having a different appearance while having an adequate function. If the function is not adequate, the structure is considered to be a malformation. An artery may bifurcate or trifurcate, but it remains functional in both cases. Although fingerprints vary for every person, they all do a fine job of holding objects by their fingers. Many people think they have ugly faces, but I have a different opinion on this matter. "My ugly face is a variation, not a malformation. Therefore, I have no problem with my face. You can assume how ugly I am just by looking at the cartoon version of my face published here".

Variation and malformation are associated with the words congenital and acquired. Congenital is something that occurs before birth, whereas acquired is something that occurs after birth. Variation is decided before birth. In the case of fingerprint, it does not change from birth to death. In other words, there is only congenital variation. Thus, we simply say variation instead of congenital variation.

However, for malformations, there are both congenital and acquired. Congenital malformation may be due to the parents' DNA or due to inappropriate medication given to the expectant mother. Congenital heart disease is a good example of this and this requires surgical treatment. Acquired malformation may come from accidents or diseases as we live our lives. A good example of this is malformation from a car accident.

Anatomy instructor teaches students only about variations. Malformations are for the clinical instructor to teach. Teaching variations is simple. During dissection, simply tell the students to look at the cadaver of their own group as well as cadavers of other groups. They learn themselves that there are variations of structures among cadavers. "An artery bifurcated in our cadaver, but trifurcated in your cadaver". Experiencing variations in the lab is very helpful. Later on as a doctor, you will be able to cope with variations of a patient.

There is another reason why a student should look at other cadavers. Male and female anatomical structures must be looked at in comparison. A student who dissected a male cadaver could major in obstetrics, hence, must see the reproductive organs of a female.

Investigating variation of cadavers is the most traditional study of anatomy. Many cadavers are dissected and variations of a certain structure are categorized into different types. Then, occurrence rate of each type are calculated. Also, lengths of a certain structure may be measured to look for differences among sex, age, and race. Research results with cadavers can be of direct assistance to clinical doctors.

Variation study is exhausting, because it is done with the instructor's hands and eyes, without the use of expensive tools and reagents. Moreover, anatomy instructors receive little research funds as they are not using expensive tools and reagents. Nevertheless, Korean anatomy instructors are studying variations with a sense of duty and are providing assistance to the clinical treatment of patients. Furthermore, their international academic journals are respected in foreign countries. Variations are the target of research for anatomy instructors as well as their source of income.