People have a misconception that there is only one thing in the life of a medical student- books. But only after becoming one yourself you can know that it’s not true. In fact, many a time, there is more learning from other sources than from books. These are things like dissection, practical experiments, discussions, pictures, charts, videos and the ultimate source of knowledge of medicine- The Patient . Nevertheless, it would be unfair to say that books are insignificant- they are a very important part of a medico’s life. They are the primary source of information, other sources are just secondary to it.
There are gonna be a lot of books. Cunningham’s, Chaurasia, Dutta, Gray’s, Guyton, Ganong, Jain, Sembilingam, Harper, Lippincott, Satyanarayana- these names are enough to leave a student dumbfounded for days together when he hears these for the first time. I’m sure that never before in our life did we refer books by their author’s name but from now onwards it’s gonna be only this way. This is one of the unique things you’ll find in a medical college – a lay man would indeed be very confused when he hears someone say- “Hey, have you seen my Chaurasia?”.
The fear new students usually have is that all these books are for them and they have to read “all” the books. But as common sense suggests all these books are not for everyone. One can use just a single book or a few more and that single book too is not necessary to read from cover to cover. Some books are to be used only for “reference”, some are good for a few topics and so on.
Here I’ll try to review a few books of first year subjects and give a piece of my mind regarding which one to choose.
Cunningham’s Manual of Practical Anatomy-
You’ll be required to hold this in your hands all the time in the dissection hall. The dissection part given in the itself is a bit tricky and not easy to understand, forget about the theory. But for some reason the department doesn’t allow any other book. You can keep it with you and read it for an introduction in the beginning but don’t read it as a main book- reading other books would be much more useful.
This is undoubtedly the most popular anatomy book in India. More than 95% of students may be following it and most seniors recommend it, but here is my sincere advice- DON’T READ FROM CHAURASIA. Especially when exams are far away. At the outset the book looks good- it has plenty of diagrams that are easy to understand, the language is compact and the introductions to each chapter are fairly good, but the problem is that it hardly has any sentences- the entire book looks just like a synopsis, the book seems to have been designed only for the purpose of memorising- and that too just rote memorisation. You understand nothing when you read something for the first time. It just lists out the things and writes a few points about it. This is suitable for revision before exams but not for understanding the subject. The reason I feel that most students find anatomy difficult is because they follow the wrong book. The more descriptive a book of anatomy is, the better. Chaurasia fails here. You can use it for revision before exams- start reading from it some 1 week before a small exam or 1 month before the final. But you can also manage completely without it and I recommend that.
This book is more popular with postgraduates than undergraduates but it doesn’t mean that it’s not for us. This it the book I highly recommend. Especially if you want to develop a good understanding of the subject and derive pleasure from learning. There may be quite a few things in the book that are not necessary- for example along with liver description there is a detailed description of its microscopic structure, anthropological description of skull etc. but you can just skip it if you’re not interested. But believe me, if you follow this book from the beginning, then your knowledge will be far better than others and you’ll be way ahead of your friends who followed Chaurasia.
Edit (15-10-2014): I had my Anatomy in 2010, when Vishram Dutta books for Anatomy weren’t released. There was only his Neuroanatomy textbook which was very popular. The anatomy books were released in 2011 and their second edition came out in 2013. Now I see a lot of my juniors reading Vishram Singh, making me think that will this book replace Chaurasia? Anyway, I haven’t read them and can’t say much about them. DO try them out too. Their ebooks are available on the internet if you know where to look.
These are not as detailed as Indian books but can be read when you’re not reading for exams. Gray’s Anatomy for Students is a good book. Other popular ones followed in many countries are Moore’s Clinically Oriented Anatomy and Snell’s Clinical Anatomy for Medical Students. These books focus less on facts, more on application, they have very good diagrams and are good overall but may not be perfect for exam point of view. Many of the things asked in exams will plainly not be there in these books. So an Indian book is essential for exams. The e-books for these Western books are easily available, you can see if you like them or not, then you can get them from the library or bookstore.
An atlas is an absolute must if you want to learn anatomy properly and with less effort. I don’t understand how some people do without it. An atlas is basically a book full of diagrams. Anatomy is a visual subject and you can learn effectively only by seeing. I came to understand this quite late in my year. Just open the atlas, go to the part you’re studying and just stare at the pictures, then open your theory book keeping the atlas in front of you and try to search for the things you read- in the atlas. It may be time consuming but is very effective.
Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy-
Frank Netter was an artist and also a surgeon. I need not tell more, do I? Till today the computer-generated graphics have not equalled his brilliant drawings. It’s also well organised and good for learning. I feel pity for those who haven’t seen this book in the only year they could have enjoyed it. One can even have it just for the sake of appreciation of the beauty of the human body. I love the tag-line of this book-“If you’re studying the art of medicine, this is where you’ll find it”.
Thieme Atlas of Anatomy (Gilroy et al)-
Some people find Netter too flashy, over-coloured and complex with excessive labelling. This atlas is for them. (Though I highly recommend Netter over Thieme)
[This post has become too long- I’ll write about physiology and biochemistry in the next post- please comment if you have any other thing to add or share your own experience- this may be useful to unimaginable number of students who will join medicine in so many years to come].