Review of anatomy education in Australian and New Zealand medical schools


  • S. Craig BSci, MB BS; N. Tait MB BS, FRACS; D. Boers BSci; D. McAndrew BSci, MSc, PhD.

  • The corresponding author is not a recipient of a research scholarship.

Dr Steven Craig, 1 Edward Street, North Wollongong, NSW 2500, Australia. Email:


Anatomy instruction at Australian and New Zealand medical schools has been the subject of considerable debate recently. Many commentators have lamented the gradual devaluation of anatomy as core knowledge in medical courses. To date, much of this debate has been speculative or anecdotal and lacking reliable supporting data. To provide a basis for better understanding and more informed discussion, this study analyses how anatomy is currently taught and assessed in Australian and New Zealand medical schools.

A mailed questionnaire survey was sent to each of the 19 Australian and 2 New Zealand medical schools, examining the time allocation, content, delivery and assessment of anatomy for the 2008 academic year.

Nineteen of the 21 (90.5%) universities invited to participate completed the survey. There was considerable variability in the time allocation, content, delivery and assessment of anatomy in Australasian medical schools. The average total hours of anatomy teaching for all courses was 171 h (SD ± 116.7, range 56/560).

Historical data indicate a major decline in anatomy teaching hours within medical courses in Australia and New Zealand. Our results reveal that as there is no national curriculum for anatomy instruction, the curriculum content, instruction methodology and assessment is highly variable between individual institutions. Such variability in anatomy teaching and assessment raises an important question: is there also variable depth of understanding of anatomy between graduates of different medical courses?