Is Anatomy And Physiology Hard? A Survival Guide For Medical And Nursing Students!

Without a doubt, medicine is one of the most esteemed professions in the world. There is a strong sense of morality in saving lives and nursing people back to health that provides those working in the field with immense satisfaction. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when doctors and nurses are entitled to the “frontline warriors” thanks to their commitment and perseverance to the patients, often at personal cost. 

For that reason, aspiring medical and nursing students are feeling more motivated than ever to embark on this path. But before becoming a doctor or registered nurse, standing in your way is a big question: Is Anatomy and Physiology hard?. Yes, it is the first course you will deal with in med school. And yes, it is certainly a tough one. 

What Is Anatomy And Physiology, Exactly? 

In case you haven’t taken any A&P classes yet, let me begin with a summary of what they are. Basically, anatomy is the study of the structures associated with the body, while physiology explores how those structures work. They are two different areas of study in life science. 

Anatomy And Physiology
Anatomy & Physiology provides basic knowledge about the human body and how it functions – Source: Unsplash

Why are they merged into one subject, then? Just to make students’ lives extra miserable? Well, anatomy and physiology are difficult to separate because the structures of the body parts affect how they work. Put another way, functions depend on anatomical forms. In fact, if you wish to pass A&P with flying colors, it’s essential to cover the anatomy section first to better understand the latter.

Take a look at some of the major topics you will cover in this class: 

  • Overall body structure. 
  • Organ location. 
  • All body systems. 
  • Anatomic terms. 
  • Chemical reactions in the body. 
  • Connections between body systems. 
  • Ideal physiologic functioning. 

Why Is Anatomy And Physiology Hard For Students? 

So, is Anatomy and Physiology hard? The answer is in statistics: According to the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, only 50% of students nationwide make it through this class. 

The subject is very challenging for several reasons: 

  • A&P is highly vast. Our body is a complex system with hundreds of bones, muscles, organs, etc. Each of them has different functions, not to mention the way they interact with each other and affect the body as a whole. Not only will you have to memorize, but also understand this massive amount of information. It’s hard to keep track of everything all at once. 
  • While it’s a sad truth, not every school teaches A&P in an organized way. That makes it difficult for students to see how each piece fits together and figure out how to memorize anatomy quickly
  • Lastly, you may find many concepts in anatomy and physiology counterintuitive, strange, or obscure. For example, do you know where the intertubercular line is? Why do we need to breathe through our nose but not our mouth?
Is Anatomy And Physiology Hard?
A&P is tricky because it incorporates many different concepts – Source: Unsplash

Altogether, they make Anatomy & Physiology a rigorous course, characterized by high drop, withdrawal, and failure rates. Nonetheless, it’s still required. To get accepted to most med schools, students don’t have to take A&P courses in college. Once you have enrolled, though, it will be an integral part of your education.

“You are not just taking this class as an elective”, said Karen Hlinka – the principal of West Kentucky Community and Technical College, “this class serves as a foundation for the rest of your career. You can make the right decisions for patients and provide accurate care only when you have a thorough understanding of the body structure and how the system interacts. Everything you will do as a doctor, from pathophysiology and diagnosis to pharmacology, revolves around this one single subject.”

Nailing A&P In Med Schools With These Ultimate Tips! 

In other words, what you learn from A&P can be used to save lives in the future. Thus, spending some extra time and effort on it is definitely worthwhile. 

Aside from hard work, effective learning and memorization tips are the key to success. With that in mind, below is JobandEdu’s guide on how to pass Anatomy and Physiology class

If You Can, Take Anatomy & Physiology Before Med School 

Take Anatomy and Physiology before med school
Enrolling on A&P classes as a pre-med has many advantages – Source: Pinterest

As the previous part mentioned, most medical and nursing schools don’t require students to take A&P courses in college. All you need are high school sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. 

Still, I would recommend you take it as an undergrad. Preexisting knowledge about the subject will make it much easier to approach A&P in med school. You may end up seeing the material from a new perspective and developing better insight. 

What’s more, it helps you find out the right “strategy”. According to Cathleen C.Pettepher – professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, visual and kinesthetic skills are crucial if you want to ace this tough class. Those are not something students often use in colleges, so by familiarizing yourself with A&P beforehand, you will have more time to adapt and sharpen this skill set. 

Create An Anatomy Glossary 

With all the strange terms and definitions, taking A&P at med school can feel like learning a whole new language. And just like learning languages, a glossary can aid in your learning and memorization of key concepts. Becoming familiar with the generalized terms doesn’t only make the course easier but also boosts your confidence.

Instead of copying the definitions from your textbook or study guide, you might want to write down essential stuff in your own words. Of course, it is important to go through this glossary regularly to keep everything fresh in your mind. To switch things up and avoid it getting monotonous, though, use it alongside mnemonics, flashcards, drawing diagrams, and video tutorials. 

Anatomical terms (Drawn & Defined) 

Budget Your Time 

As you already know, our bodies are complex structures comprised of the neurological system, circulatory system, musculoskeletal system, respiratory system, integumentary system, digestive system, urinary system, reproductive system, lymphatic system, endocrine system, and immune system. That means there are many concepts to learn, and you will be overwhelmed without proper time management. 

As a rule of thumb, outside study time should be allocated 90 – 120 minutes for every hour spent in the classroom. Just like how you establish a good exercise routine, you will want to develop a study routine throughout the week dedicated to learning and reviewing the material. Shorter and more frequent study sessions don’t only boost your retention of the material but also help avoid burnout. 

Like Medicine, Anatomy & Physiology Can Be A Team Sport

Do you know that one of the things professors observe during lab is how their students collaborate as a team? Your future career is not a single-player game: You will be working with nurses, emergency doctors, nutritionists, surgeons, and so on. 

So, practice collaboration now by forming a group with other A&P students! Make sure you meet each other on a regular basis to go over lecture notes and the material covered in each session. That way, you will learn to share the workload and balance your learning with the strengths of others. 

Anatomy and Physiology study group
Forming an A&P study group also livens up your study session and makes it more productive – Source: American Medical Association

When there is a member who struggles with a certain concept, help them learn by reviewing and quizzing. Helping and teaching others improves your learning and keeps you accountable. In return, your team can assist you with your studies as well. 

Mistakes Are OK 

An A&P course often involves a lot of dissections, and many med-school professors agree that it takes a certain level of resilience to succeed. 

More precisely, you should be willing to take on the challenge of discovering the unknown. Most of the time, students hesitate to start a dissection because they are afraid to make mistakes. Keep in mind that it’s all about identifying structures, seeing how each part is connected to the other, and determining functions based on what you observe. This can’t be accomplished without cutting and exposing, so making some mistakes should be fine. 

It’s All About Our Own Machinery! 

Next time, if someone brings up the question “Is Anatomy and Physiology hard?”,  just tell them: “Nope, with the right strategy!”. 

After all, one of the luckiest things about studying Anatomy and Physiology is that you can be your personal reference manual. There might be variations across individuals, but the underlying sciences in the study of the human body are almost always applicable to your own. Just look at things from that perspective, and A&P won’t seem so frightening anymore. By imagining what’s going on inside and putting daily habits in the context of your own biology, you can make your study topics more personal and add emotion to your learning. The secret lies within you. Literally.

Iris Vida

Well, Iris Vida is very into reading books from different eras, cultures, and anything that has been going viral lately, etc. Her passions can't be put in a few words only. Whether it's the "Jazz Age," a Neil Gaiman notable novel, the pitter-patter melodies of Taylor Swift's music, or anything else, she always sends the best materials to her top-notch writings, engaging all readers everywhere. Moreover, like Nick Carraway, who captured global attention with his rich and glamorous look, she leaves readers with a satisfying sense of wonder and an urge to learn more with her compelling writing style.