How Do You Become An Anatomist?

The IU School of Medicine's training program is among the nation's largest and prepares students to teach others about the body's most intricate details.

A textbook page detailing the muscles of the lower leg.

AS IU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE prepares future doctors, it is also training future anatomists in one of the most well-regarded anatomy programs in the country.

Arriving as doctoral students, they leave as experts in gross anatomy, microscopic anatomy, neuroanatomy, and embryology. They can wield a scalpel and explain the minutiae of cellular processes. And they benefit from a program at IU that is larger than most and offers a dissection-based curriculum.

Often, these budding anatomists have a background in biology, but it’s becoming more common for students to earn a master’s degree in anatomy. They also instruct students in other health professional programs such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and dentistry.

“We give them opportunities to do traditional teaching, like lecturing or leading small group sessions,” said Jessica Byram, PhD, an assistant professor who oversees the Education Track in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. “Students who leave our program will be able to say they can teach any sub-discipline of anatomy at any level.”

Up to 14 students—six in Indianapolis, eight in Bloomington—get opportunities to teach, serving as a resource, and easing the anxiety of medical students who are beginning their discovery.

“What medical students get out of it is somebody who has passed the course and can teach content at their level,” Byram said. “But it also gives them camaraderie and relationship-building with someone who has been successful in the course.”

The school boasts a perfect placement rate for its graduates, who have moved on to positions at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of California-San Francisco, and Rush Medical College.

“They’re all teaching anatomy at a high level,” Byram said. “They fill what we really feel is an important role.”

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Matthew Harris

Matthew Harris is a communications specialist in the Office of Gift Development. Before joining the School of Medicine in 2015, he was a reporter at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He currently lives in Indianapolis with his fiancee and two basset hounds.