MSc in functional and clinical anatomy

Authors: Rhys Morris, Priam Heire 

Publication date:  06 Oct 2012

The MSc in functional and clinical anatomy at the University of Birmingham is a part time taught course designed to help participants develop a better understanding of anatomy, particularly its clinical applications.

Who is it for?

This course is suitable for clinicians at all levels who are keen to develop their knowledge of anatomy and research skills while working full time. It is applicable to trainees in a variety of specialties, such as radiology and gynaecology, as well as to surgical trainees, and it will be useful for general practitioners wanting to develop special interests.

The degree also provides a useful grounding for anyone considering an academic training job; and the opportunity to do original research for the dissertation provides a superb foundation for further postgraduate courses such as an MD or PhD. As it is part time, the course is suitable for people training or working outside the West Midlands.

What does it involve?

The programme runs for two academic years, with teaching on alternate Thursdays for the first 18 months, after which participants independently complete a six month dissertation. An induction day takes place in September, and the course starts in October; there are 12 places each year. The course has several different aspects: lectures by specialists; dissection; critical analysis of research and a dissertation. These, along with the flexibility provided, were all important factors to us when making a decision to enrol in this MSc course.

The course has five compulsory modules: functional anatomy of the trunk and lower limb; functional anatomy of the upper limb, head, and neck; dissection and decision making; research methods and appraisal of published work; and a dissertation that is based on their own research. In the second year participants do two optional modules, allowing them to explore areas of personal interest. Current options include head and neck surgery, transplant surgery, and trauma.

Teaching days generally include a journal club, where participants present and discuss research papers. Teaching sessions and lectures are delivered by guest speakers, many of whom work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Speakers are mostly from surgical fields and include leading specialists in trauma and reconstructive surgery. Often speakers relate anatomical principles outlined in their lectures to developments in their field. Furthermore, pathologists, anaesthetists, and academics give tutorials on the applications of anatomy in their everyday clinical and research work. Afternoon sessions comprise dissection in groups of two or three students.

In addition to exams for the taught course, a 20 000 word dissertation is completed during the final six months. This is original research and can be done within a local hospital or deanery if the student is based outside the West Midlands.

Why did you do it?

Our interest in learning anatomy from a clinical perspective was one of the main reasons for doing this course. The MSc helped us to develop an understanding of clinical anatomy and the anatomical consequences of pathology. Detailed dissections during the course helped us to develop manual skills and enabled better understanding of anatomy and anatomical variation between individuals. Participation in the course also provides useful topics for discussion in specialty training interviews in surgery, radiology, and ophthalmology.

Is there an exam?

Students are assessed through essays, contributions at the journal club, and a detailed dissection logbook. Exams are in April in year 1 and January in year 2. In the first year students are assessed on research methods, lecture material, and anatomical knowledge. The second year exams are of a similar format but also cover the two optional modules.

How much does it cost?

The fee for 2012-13 is £3525 a year for two years. This fee is applicable to students from the United Kingdom or European Union and non-UK or European Union students working in a UK or European Union hospital.

Would you recommend it?

We highly recommended this course to ambitious clinicians from a diverse range of specialties who are keen to build on a number of essential and desirable skills. Beyond improving anatomical knowledge, the programme helps participants develop an analytical approach to research, manual dexterity through dissection, and presentation skills.

As it is part time, this course can be done during foundation or specialty training without the need for a prolonged period out of full time work. This obviates the loss of income associated with other full time postgraduate degrees and the risk of potential deskilling through time spent away from clinical areas.

The flexibility in choosing a dissertation project gives students the opportunity to explore an area of interest and may result in further publications or posters to improve their CV.

Further information

Contact the course organiser, Joanne Wilton, professor of anatomy at the University of Birmingham, tel +44 (0)121 414 6838; email; [Link] .

Competing interests: None declared.

Rhys Morris first year student
Priam Heire second year student School of Immunity and Infection, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: